Thursday, 5 September 2013

T 309/10 – Inside The Librarian’s Mind

This is an examination appeal.

Claim 1 of the main request read:
A document repository system allowing electronic storing and referencing of documents comprising:

a storage device;

a network interface;

a processor coupled to the storage device, said processor adapted to:

process a symbol to generate a master symbol (115) including applying a set of normalisation rules to the symbol;

assign a parent identifier (110) to the master symbol (115), wherein the parent identifier (110) is assignable to a plurality of master symbols (115);

store the parent identifier (110) and the master symbol (115) in a master symbol database wherein the master symbol is linked to the parent identifier (110);

store at least one document wherein the at least one document is linked to the parent identifier comprising the steps of:

generating a document identifier;

storing the document identifier and the parent identifier (110) so that the parent identifier is linked to the document identifier in a relational database; and

storing the document and the document identifier so that the document identifier is linked to the document;

receive an input symbol which contains symbol segments (120);

process the input symbol to generate a normalized symbol including:

applying a set of normalisation rules to the input symbol; and

searching a normalization table database (417) of sets of symbols each set relating to a master symbol using the symbol segments to return corresponding master symbol segments (1527);

search the master symbol database using the normalized symbol to find a matching master symbol and a parent identifier linked to the matching master symbol;

search an information element database to find a document linked to the parent identifier; and

retrieve the document linked to the parent identifier.

[11] In the system defined by claim 1, the processor is adapted to carry out the steps of the core method, set out above.

[12] The invention defined in claim 1 does not involve an inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973) if, when faced with the technical problem of implementing the core method, the provision of a storage device, a network interface, and a suitably adapted processor would have been obvious. Here, “suitably adapted” means that the table of master symbols, the table linking document identifiers and parent identifiers, and the database of documents must be electronically stored; and it must be the processor that carries out the steps, including normalisation.

[13] In the Board’s view, any computer implementation must make use of storage, and whatever carries out the method steps, which the skilled person seeks to implement, can be called a processor. Thus, inevitably, there would be storage, and all the steps of the core method would be performed by a processor, which must be adapted to perform them.

[14] The only options open to the skilled person would be the provision of a network interface, and the choice of storing the tables and database in electronic or magnetic storage (the claim does not specify the form of storage, but it can be taken, implicitly, as normal computer storage). In the Board’s view, in choosing to implement the core method on a general purpose computer, both of those optional features would have been provided. Since general purpose computers were known for their ability to store and process data reliably and quickly, their use would have been obvious.

[15] The appellant has argued that the invention makes the retrieval of relevant documents easier and more accurate. That argument bears on the non-technical problem of librarianship. The same advantage accrues to any library, regardless of its technological substrate; regardless, indeed, of whether or not there is a technological substrate at all. The Board does consider that retrieval and accuracy might, in some circumstances, be technical issues. The Board in T 654/10 evidently considered them to be so in that case. However, the Board, in the present case, has reasons (set out above) for considering them to be non-technical in this case.

[16] The argument that a librarian would not, or could not, maintain the information required in his head, so that the invention does not amount to the automation of a mental act is not apposite; nor would it be sufficient to change the result if it were. The claimed repository need not be large. According to the claim, it is sufficient to have one master symbol, one parent identifier, and one document. In such a case, it would be entirely possible to perform the method mentally. Naturally, even the problem of librarianship would then be trivial. A librarian would normally have to deal with more than can easily be done without some assistance. He might, for example, as librarians often have done, use a card index to store associations between master symbols and parent identifiers. The method, however, remains the same, independently of any technical substrate used for storing information, whether it be pencil and paper, cardboard and ink, or digital storage.

[17] The further argument that implementation using a computer system would allow the repository to grow larger than without cannot change the Board’s assessment that using computers for what they are good at - storing and processing large amounts of data quickly - was an obvious measure.

[18] The argument that the invention cannot be seen as an automation of a known method, because the method, in this case, was not known, fails because the novelty of non-technical methods is irrelevant (cf. T 641/00 [headnote 2]).

[19] In conclusion, the main request cannot be allowed, because the subject matter defined by claim 1 does not involve an inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973).

Should you wish to download the whole decision, just click here.

The file wrapper can be found here.


Anonymous said...

It might not have saved this case, but I wonder whether having some features further describing the database would have helped, essentially including a description of a database optimised to carry out the function that's needed. Otherwise the claim does simply look like an unimpressive series of comparisons