Software patents for emerging tech since 2008

Können nicht-technische Merkmale die Neuheit begründen? (T2050/07)


Europäische Patente werden für Erfindungen erteilt, die (unter anderem) neu sind und auf einer erfinderischen Tätigkeit beruhen (Art. 52(1) EPÜ). In der COMVIK-Entscheidung wurde bereits klargestellt, dass die erfinderische Tätigkeit nicht auf nicht-technische Merkmale gestützt werden kann. Offen blieb, ob ein solches Merkmal eine Erfindung neu macht.

In der Entscheidung T 2050/07 (DNA Mixture Analysis/PERLIN) vom 19. Februar 2013 hat sich die technische Beschwerdekammer 3.3.08 mit genau dieser Frage beschäftigt, nämlich ob ein nicht-technisches Merkmal die Neuheit eines Patentanspruchs begründen kann. Die Kammer nennt als möglichen Standpunkt eine — nicht weiter begründete — Analogie zur Ausklammerung nicht-technischer Merkmale bei der erfinderischen Tätigkeit.

Leider ließ die Kammer die Frage aber schließlich unbeantwortet, da das fragliche Merkmal als technisch angesehen wurde:

Aus der Begründung

[3] It is established case law that claimed subject-matter is not excluded from patentability as a non-invention under Article 52(2) EPC for the sole reason that it contains features which might be considered to be non-technical (see opinion G 3/08, OJ EPO 2011, 10, point 10.13 of the Reasons, and decision T 1658/06 of 14 January 2011, point 3 of the Reasons). In the present case, claim 1 as well as dependent claims 2 to 21 are directed to a method of analysing a DNA sample. This method comprises inter alia a step of amplifying the DNA sample, wherein the amplification product produces a signal comprising signal peaks (see step (a)), a step of detecting signal peak amounts and a step of quantifying the amounts using quantifying means that include a computing device to produce DNA length and concentration estimates (see step (b)). Already for the reason that both steps (a) and (b) are obviously performed using dedicated laboratory equipment and devices the claimed method cannot be considered as being devoid of technical character. The Board therefore reaches the conclusion that the subject-matter of none of the claims of the request is to be regarded as a non-invention pursuant to Article 52(2) EPC.

[8] Both the method according to claim 1 and the method of document D6 involve (i) an amplification step wherein as a result of the DNA amplification a signal is produced which comprises signal peaks, (ii) a step of detecting the peak amounts in the signal, (iii) a step of quantifying the amounts to produce DNA length and concentration estimates, and (iv) a resolution step which involves a mathematical method basically consisting in representing the estimates in a linear equation, deriving a solution from the linear equation, and resolving the DNA mixture into its components. The methods differ essentially in that in the method according to claim 1, (i) the linear matrix equation ‘p = G x w’ used in document D6 […] has been amended to include an error vector which models measurement error (see paragraph [0186] of the published patent application) and reads ‘d = G.w + e’, and (ii) the solution includes calculation of data variance sigma**(2) from the linear model ‘d = G.w + e’ together with the global minimal solution ‘Pd = Gw0′.

[9] The argument could be made that the distinguishing features described above are of non-technical nature as being a mathematical method or a method for performing mental activities, and that, in view of the established case law according to which features that do not contribute to the technical character of an invention and do not interact with the technical subject-matter of the claim for solving a technical problem, have to be ignored when assessing inventive step, such features should equally be ignored when assessing novelty. The Board therefore examines whether or not the distinguishing features in the present case make a technical contribution.

[10] Both the distinguishing features (i) and (ii) aim at ascertaining the reliability of the claimed method for analyzing DNA samples containing genetic material from two or more individuals and for determining the genotypes involved. By providing estimates of the error ‘e’, estimates of the variances and standard deviations can be computed from the data using the global minimal solution ‘Pd = Gw0′ and these values can be used to estimate probabilities. This results in a quantitative estimate of the quality of the solution (see paragraphs [0006] and [0194] of the published application). Thus, the distinguishing features constitute a means for improving the confidence of the genotype estimate of the quantitative method analysis of document D6 (see paragraphs [0044] and [0074] of the published application). The board therefore considers that the distinguishing features contribute to the technical character of the claimed invention.

[13] The above consideration leads the Board to consider that the distinguishing features have to be taken into account when assessing novelty of claim 1 and, therefore, it concludes that the method of claim 1 is new. As claims 2 to 21 are dependent on claim 1, the request as a whole complies with the requirements of Article 54 EPC.

Link zur Entscheidung T 2050/07 (DNA Mixture Analysis/PERLIN)

About Bastian Best

Bastian Best

I'm a European patent attorney specializing in software patents and a partner in one of the most renowned IP only firms in Europe.

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By Bastian Best Software patents for emerging tech since 2008