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Case law 28 Apr 2022

Technicality of computer-implemented simulations

A patent claiming a design process which uses computer-implemented simulation to produce numerical data describing a wiring path, was refused in examination for lacking inventive step. The Applicant appealed the decision of the Examining Division. The Board considered that the claim related to a computer-implemented simulation of a technical system and therefore decision G 1/19 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the patentability of computer implemented simulations should be applied. The Board decided that claim 1 lacked inventive step, because the data produced by the apparatus of claim 1 was not limited to a further technical purpose and neither did contribute to an "implied" technical effect that is to be taken into account in the assessment of inventive step.
  • A design process which uses computer-implemented simulation to produce numerical data describing a wiring path is considered as a computer-implemented simulation of a technical system
  • Decision G1/19 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the patentability of computer implemented simulations applies to such computer-implemented simulation of technical systems
  • According to G1/19, numerical data reflecting the physical behaviour of a real system modelled in a computer can only have technical character if the potential use of such data is limited to technical purposes.
  • According to the Board the potential use of such data would be limited to technical purposes ifthe technical effect that would result from the intended use of the data could be considered implied by the claim, or the intended use of the data (i.e. the use in connection with a technical device) could be considered to extend across substantially the whole scope of the claimed data processing method”
  • In the present case, claim 1 would cover using the output data for other non-technical purposes such as, for example informational, study or training purposes

Background

An appeal was lodged against the decision of the Examining Division to refuse European patent application No. 03257060.8. The Examining Division decided that the subject matter of claim 1 of the sole request lacked inventive step. In the statement of grounds of appeal, the Appellant maintained the sole request considered in the appealed decision. According to the Board’s preliminary opinion, the subject-matter of all the claims lacked inventive step over document D1, when taking into account decision G1/19 on the patentability of computer-implemented simulations. With a letter of reply the Appellant filed an auxiliary request.

The Claims

Claim 1 of the main request reads as follows:

"A wire harness wiring path design aiding apparatus comprising:

a designing unit which designs a wiring path of a wire harness by using body data on an object to which the wire harness is installed and three-dimensional data on an auxiliary device installed on a vehicle body;

a storing unit which stores data on a minimum bending radius of the wire harness; and

a checking unit which judges whether the wiring path data designed by the designing unit satisfies the minimum bending radius, and outputs, if the wiring path data does not satisfy the minimum bending radius, data on corrected wiring path data designed in light of the minimum bending radius, characterised in that

the storing unit stores, as the data on the minimum bending radius, a first minimum bending radius defined based on properties of material of the wire harness and a second minimum bending radius defined based on force of worker's hand, and

wherein the apparatus includes a selecting unit which, when the first minimum bending radius differs from the second minimum bending radius, selects one of the first and second minimum bending radius which has larger minimum bending radius."

Claim 1 of the auxiliary request differs from claim 1 of the main request in that the following text has been added at the end:

", and wherein it is judged whether a pattern of the wiring path designed with taking the selected minimum bending radius into consideration interferes with the vehicle body, and when it is determined that the pattern of the wiring path does not interfere with the vehicle body, the wiring path of the wire harness is corrected with the pattern of the wiring path designed taking the selected minimum bending radius into consideration."

The Decision of the Board

D1 discloses generating virtual wire-harness prototypes for verification by taking into account 3D models of housings and “a minimum bend radius and mechanical interferences in the space available in the assembly to design the structural assemblies that determine wire routing.”

In the opinion of the Board, the distinguishing features were the following:

“(d1) the storing unit also stores a second minimum bending radius based on force of the worker's hand,

(d2) a selecting unit selects the largest of the first and second minimum radii if they differ.”

According to the Board, claim 1 refers to “a design process which uses computer-implemented simulation to produce numerical data describing a wiring path” wherein the distinguishing features result “in wiring path data being output by the apparatus which take into account the force of the worker's hand”.  As the claim related to a computer-implemented simulation of a technical system, the Board considered that decision G1/19 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the patentability of computer implemented simulations should be applied.

The Board noted that, according to decision G1/19, when a claimed process results in a set of numerical values, the further use of the data should be taken into account in order to assess the existence of a technical effect. Moreover, such further use should be, at least implicitly, specified in the claim.

According to the Board, calculated numerical data reflecting the physical behaviour of a real system modelled in a computer can only have technical character in exceptional cases such as, for example, if the potential use of such data is limited to technical purposes such as controlling a technical device. This would be the case if the numerical data is specifically adapted for "the purposes of its intended technical use. Either the technical effect that would result from the intended use of the data could be considered implied by the claim, or the intended use of the data (i.e. the use in connection with a technical device) could be considered to extend across substantially the whole scope of the claimed data processing method. These arguments cannot be made if claimed data or data resulting from a claimed process has relevant uses other than the use with a technical device.”

According to the Applicant, “the claim specified at least implicitly a further use of the designed wire harness which had an impact on physical reality, and therefore fulfilled the requirements expressed in G 1/19”. The Applicant also considered that “it was sufficient to show that the end result had, at least implicitly, a technical purpose. It was clear from the claim that the technical area of the invention was the installation of the wiring harness along the path.

However, the Board was not convinced by the arguments of the Applicant because the output of claim 1 is numerical data about the wiring path design which takes into account the force of the worker's hand and no specific use is specified. Thus, the claim would cover using the output data for other non-technical purposes such as, for example informational, study or training purposes. Moreover, according to the Board, as the claim did not specify any form or format for the output data, “it cannot be considered to be specifically adapted for the purposes of an intended technical use. In particular, the output data is not specifically adapted to be used in controlling a technical device or manufacturing a wiring path.

In view of this, the Board concluded that the subject-matter of claim 1 lacked an inventive step.

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