Referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal G 1/19 - Computer implemented simulation

 

I. The T 489/14 case relates to a computer-implemented method, computer program and apparatus for simulating the movement of a pedestrian crowd through an environment.

 

The description describes a mathematical model of individual pedestrians and an algorithm for simulating their movement through an environment. A design system performing the simulation, allows the user to build a model of an environment by creating it or importing a design from a computer-aided-design (CAD) source, in order to design a venue such as a railway station or a stadium.

 

Claim 1 of the main request reads as follows :

 

"A computer-implemented method of modelling pedestrian crowd movement in an environment, the method comprising :  simulating movement of a plurality of pedestrians through the environment, wherein simulating movement of each pedestrian comprises :  providing a provisional path (9) through a model of the environment from a current location (6) to an intended destination (7); providing a profile for said pedestrian; determining a preferred step (112'), to a preferred position (123'), towards said intended destination based upon said profile and said provisional path, wherein determining said preferred step comprises determining a dissatisfaction function expressing a cost of taking a step comprising a sum of an inconvenience function expressing a cost of deviating from a given direction and a frustration function expressing a cost of deviating from a given speed; defining a neighbourhood (29) around said preferred position (123');  identifying obstructions in said neighbourhood, said obstructions including other pedestrians (21) and fixed obstacles (25); determining a personal space (24) around said pedestrian; determining whether said preferred step (112') is feasible by considering whether obstructions (21, 25) infringe said personal space over the course of the preferred step (112'). "

 

The Board of appeal first applied the decision G 2/07, reasons 6.4.2.1, that states that "[h]uman intervention, to bring about a result by utilising the forces of nature, pertains to the core of what an invention is understood to be" and concluded that the subject-matter of claim 1 indeed lacks inventive step over a known general-purpose computer. 

 

However, in the decision T 1227/05, brought forward by the applicant, a numerical simulation of a noise-affected circuit was considered as being technical, because it enabled to perform a simulation more quickly and thus supported the appellants reasoning.

 

As the Board of Appeals intends to deviate from the decision T 1227/05, it considered that it has to refer the question to the Enlarged Board of Appeals, so that a uniform application of the law can be established.

 

II. Therefore, the Board of Appeals remitted the following question to the Enlarged Board of Appeals :

 

  • In the assessment of inventive step, can the computer-implemented simulation of a technical system or process solve a technical problem by producing a technical effect which goes beyond the simulation's implementation on a computer, if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as such ?

 

  • If the answer to the first question is yes, what are the relevant criteria for assessing whether a computer-implemented simulation claimed as such solves a technical problem? In particular, is it a sufficient condition that the simulation is based, at least in part, on technical principles underlying the simulated system or process ?

 

  • What are the answers to the first and second questions if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as part of a design process, in particular for verifying a design ?

 

III. In the wake of the referral, the President of the European Patent Office has decided that all proceedings before the EPO examining and opposition divisions in which the decision depends entirely on the outcome of the above referral, will be stayed ex officio until the Enlarged Board of Appeal issues its decision. Search proceedings are not stayed. If proceedings are stayed, the Examining or Opposition division concerned will inform the parties accordingly and will withdraw any communications setting the time limits for a response and will dispatch no further such communications until the Enlarged Board of Appeal has given its decision. In such a case a communication will be issued concerning the resumption of the proceedings. 

 

The stay of the proceedings concerns cases in which :

 

(a) the assessment of inventive step requires deciding whether or not a computer-implemented simulation of a technical system or process, claimed either as such or as part of a design process, can be considered to produce a technical effect which goes beyond the simulation's implementation on a computer (i.e. whether or not the simulation achieved can itself qualify as a technical effect for the purposes of assessing inventive step, see Guidelines for Examination in the EPO, G-VII, 5.4), and

 

(b) the outcome of the proceedings depends entirely on how the Enlarged Board answers the points of law referred to it.

 

Condition (a) is also met where a claim comprises features other than the computer-implemented simulation but these features form part of the state of the art, make no technical contribution or are obvious to the person skilled in the art and do not interact with the simulation.

 

For the purposes of assessing whether the above conditions are met, the term "simulation" is to be interpreted as meaning an approximate imitation of the operation of a system based on a model of that system (T 489/14, point 21 of the Reasons).

 

IV. To conclude, the decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal will have an important influence in the field of computer-implemented methods, which depend on mathematical methods.

 

 

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