In a referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA), the Technical Board of Appeal has asked for more guidance on how to assess inventive step for patent applications directed to computer-implemented simulations.
To that end, the following questions have been referred to the EBA (G1/19 – referral from T 0489/14):
1. 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?
2. If the answer to (1) 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?
3. What are the answers to the first and second questions if the computerimplemented simulation is claimed as part of a design process, in particular for verifying a design?
The first question is attempting to establish whether a simulation, by itself, can ever provide a technical effect.
If the EBA deems that a simulation, when taken in isolation, can have a technical effect, then the next question becomes; how can an examiner at the EPO reliably and repeatably assess patentability in such cases. This second question is essentially asking for a test or checklist, based on which an examiner can make an assessment.
The third question is asking whether a simulation, if claimed as part of a design process, could be patentable. Presumably if the answer to the first question is yes, then the answer to this question would also be yes. But a design process may imply a product, and verifying a design implies limitations to the simulation that may have real-world implications.
While the referral is pending, applications, oppositions and appeals in which the decision depends entirely on the answer to the above questions may be stayed at the request of the parties or by the examining or opposition division on its own initiative.
The EBA's answers should provide some useful guidance on how to improve an applicant's chances of successfully protecting simulation-related inventions in Europe. Watch this space for our follow-up article as soon as a decision is issued.
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