The field of computer-implemented inventions is a challenge, with traps and traps for the ignorant and the reckless. The advice provided by the European Patent Office (EPO) to its examiners in assessing the patentability of computer-implemented inventions provides valuable information on how to navigate this problematic area.
As we reported earlier this year, the Guidelines for EPO Examination were updated in March 2021, resulting in a number of changes in the way inventions implemented by the EPO. computer are processed. In particular, these updated guidelines introduced for the first time a section on database management systems and information retrieval (G-II, 3.6.4), which provides welcome clarifications on how to obtain a patent in this field.
Database management systems – technical systems and technical considerations
In this new section, the EPO made it clear that it regards database management systems as technical systems that perform the technical task of storing and retrieving data efficiently. As such, the EPO is likely to consider that a method performed in a database management system is not excluded from patentability.
The EPO further clarified that the characteristics of a claim which specify the internal workings of a database management system are based on technical considerations and thus contribute to the technical character of the claim. Therefore, these characteristics can support the presence of an inventive step.
That being said, all the functionalities implemented in a database management system do not necessarily have a technical character because of their implementation in this technical system. For example, a feature of a database management system for the accounting costs associated with the use of the system by different users would not make a technical contribution.
Database management systems – query execution and data structures
The EPO has further clarified its position on the execution of structured queries: “Optimizing the execution of such structured queries in relation to the necessary computing resources (such as processor, main memory or hard disk) contributes to the technical character of invention ”as it is about the efficient operation of the computer system.
In addition, data structures used in database management systems, for example indexes, hash tables or query trees, can also contribute to the technical nature of the invention if the data structure controls the operation of the database management system to facilitate access to data or for the execution of structure queries. However, if the data structure is based on cognitive data rather than functional data, such a data structure would not be considered technical.
The EPO provided further guidance regarding information retrieval systems. Such systems may include searching for information in a document, searching for documents themselves, or searching for metadata that describes data such as text, images or sounds. If a search is based on finding relevant or similar documents and the method of estimating relevance or similarity is based only on non-technical considerations, such as cognitive context, purely linguistic rules or others subjective criteria, then the method does not make a contribution.
In addition, the new section clarifies that translating linguistic considerations into a mathematical model for the purpose of enabling computer linguistic analysis involves technical considerations. However, it is emphasized that this is not in itself sufficient to guarantee the technical character of the mathematical model – the internal workings of the computer on which it is to be run must also be taken into account.
For example, a mathematical model making it possible to calculate the probability that a given term has a similar meaning to another term by analyzing the frequency of co-occurrence of two terms in a collection of documents would not provide technical support in terms of itself since it is based on purely linguistic considerations. Indeed, in the context of this example, a “better search” would be subjective.
Although obtaining protection for computer-implemented inventions remains difficult, it appears that the EPO has undergone a radical change in its approach, such that applications for computer-implemented inventions in the field of database management systems and information retrieval have a significantly improved prospect of obtaining the grant.