Presentations Of Information (POI): What is Patentable?
In almost all areas of daily life, anybody can experience and use some particular types of presentations of data or information, such as those generated by electronic devices or systems, be they commonly used or not. These are cognitive data, that is to say interaction modes between human beings and machines in general, delivered through direct information – either in visual, acoustic, tactile and haptic form – to a user, having no impact on the technical functioning of the device or system.
When are POI patentable?
In order for POI to be patentable, two hurdles should be overcome: the first one is represented by Art. 52(2)(d) of the European Patent Convention – EPC, while the second one is the inventive step requirement established by Art. 56 of EPC, in a revised version for POI.
According to Art. 52(2)(d), POI are not patentable as such. However, if there is at least one technical feature like a computer, a screen, a device, a process implemented by a computer, then information become patentable and so they get over the first hurdle.
With regards to the assessment of the inventive step requirement, it is necessary to establish if the features of the invention actually contribute to its technical character. Usually, POI taken by themselves are not technical. However, if in the context of the invention they contribute to produce a technical effect reaching a technical objective, then it can be stated that they contribute to the invention’s technical character and so they get over the second hurdle as well.
When does a feature defining a POI produce a technical effect?
In order to answer this question, the so-called three criteria test is used, that is an assessment regarding whether or not the user is actually supported by the POI during the performance of a technical task/objective, through a continuous human-machine interaction.
In particular, by actually supported we mean when the feature allows to assist the user while performing a technical task objectively and reliably, therefore when the user really succeeds in reaching the desired technical effect. This does not happen, for example, if the final effect depends on the subjective interests or on the users’ preferences. In fact, human perceptions cannot be qualified as having a technical nature.
Examples of non-technical and technical.
Non-technical: depending on the user’s psychological – therefore subjective – factors, such as showing only urgent notifications in order to minimize the user’s burden and oversight. Because urgent, burden and oversight are based only on human psychology.
A significant example has been discussed in the decision T1235/07 of the Technical Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office – EPO, regarding the visualization of tree diagrams including commercial information, as shown in the picture, like the sales of certain companies in certain countries. By selecting some countries, a user could visualize the sales distribution of specific companies. These data were not considered as technical and nor was their visualization mode, because they do not pass the above mentioned three criteria test. In fact, these data do not support the user in the performance of a technical task or objective, through a continuous human-machine interaction.
Technical: physical or physiological parameters, such as the visualization of an image flow where the parameters to establish the images delay and the change time is calculated according to physical properties of the human visual perception, in order to ensure an image transition which is compatible with the human physiological perception.
A relevant example has been discussed in the decision T0690/11 of the Technical Board of Appeal of EPO, regarding a machine comprising visualization means set up in order to show a succession of several screens playing a real-time evolution of a therapeutic treatment on a patient, as shown in the pictures.
Through these screens, the user can become aware of the machine internal status during the treatment, which he/she wouldn’t have known otherwise. Therefore, a sort of loop is created between information provided by the machine through the screens and the actions that the user can carry out on the machine itself, by varying for example some functioning parameters or detecting possible breakdowns, if in a certain moment the treatment is in a phase where the user was not expecting it to be.
In short, presentations of information are patentable if information show the internal status of a device or system or machine in real time, and therefore concern the internal functioning of the device or system or machine – automatically detected – changing over time and dynamically updated, thus favouring the human-machine interaction.
This allows the user to get information about the internal status of the device or system or machine which he/she couldn’t have obtained otherwise and also makes it possible to intervene on the functioning of the device or system or machine, by modifying the parameters or detecting for examples some technical malfunctioning.
More information about GUI are available in EPO’s Guidelines for Examination.
Considerations about GUI
As previously mentioned, GUI can be considered as a POI’s subset.
GUI mainly regard the input of information into a system through a graphic interface.
Usually, input data are already technical by nature, since they have to be compatible with certain technical protocols of devices, systems or machines.
Typically, features regarding the graphical design of a list generated according to aesthetic considerations or to a user’s subjective preferences, do not contribute to an invention’s technical character.
Example of patentable GUI
A significant example has been discussed in the decision T1629/08 of the Technical Board of Appeal of EPO, regarding a communication mobile device with a specific keyboard that can be used both with right and left hand. The device is also equipped with a program or predictive routine that, based on the signal corresponding to the pressure exerted by a user on a button, predicts the alphanumeric sequence and the values of the command, thus allowing the user to push the buttons very quickly.
This graphic interface is patentable because it improves the device ergonomics: being the keyboard smaller than a normal one, it can be used both with right and left hand and it helps the user to input data as the text is predicted by the program, so a loop between the user and the device is established, as previously described.
Example of non-patentable GUI
A relevant example has been discussed in the decision T58/11 of the Technical Board of Appeal of EPO, regarding a graphic interface of predictive texts as well, but in this case the invention’s aspects are purely linguistic, since the words’ selection reveals non-technical considerations about the chances that a specific word will be inserted by a user later on in the text he/she’s typing.
In fact, this solution may solve the problem of how to select words of a dictionary which are likely to be inserted in a text, according to the context. This is a non-technical issue, as it could be solved by a linguist expert who is not considered as a technician having technical skills. Therefore, these linguistic aspects are included in the user’s psychological sphere that, as previously discussed about POI, do not have a technical character nor contribute to a technical effect.
More information about GUI are available in EPO’s Guidelines for Examination.
POI and GUI belong to the so-called industry 4.0 which, for its specific and ever-evolving nature, will certainly require developments and updates in the Patent Law, too.