25 Mar 2016

T 1385/12 - Scheme for playing games

Key points
  • " Thus, whilst claim 1 is not restricted to any particular game, and therefore its subject matter is not founded on any specific game rule, the Board considers that the game developer's choice of having the y coordinate of the slide start-point set a game parameter used in game processes nevertheless represents a non-technical generic scheme for playing various games. Therefore it is excluded from patentability under Article 52(2)(c) EPC." (as part of the assessment of inventive step of claim 1 under essentially, the Comvik approach). 
T 1385/12 - link

3.2 In D3 the swing speed of the shot, a further parameter used for determining game processes, is not determined by the other coordinate ("y") of the stop position but by the speed of the slide operation to the right, see also the application as published, paragraph [0003]).
Thus, the game apparatus of claim 1 differs from that of D3 in that the first parameter setting means is additionally for setting at least another first parameter according to another element of the two-dimensional coordinates of said operating position that satisfies the first requirement, the game processing means performing game processes based also on this parameter. The claimed game apparatus is therefore new with respect to D3.
3.3 The Board must therefore consider whether this differing feature contributes an inventive step.
3.3.1 With respect to D3, the application states the game using this apparatus is so simple that it may lack interesting characteristics (published application, paragraph [0005]). The central idea of the invention is to interact with a game apparatus in a new way, giving rise to the effect that the game is more interesting (published application, paragraph [0007]). Since the screen of D3 is indisputably a touch-screen on which slide gestures are performed (see figures 8 to 11), this idea does not reside in these known features per se, but rather in a new way of deriving parameters from the interaction with the touch screen.
In particular, this new way of interacting with the apparatus generates a further parameter used in game play from the y coordinate of the start of a slide action.
3.3.2 The Board holds it unlikely that such an idea would be conceived of by an engineer tasked with designing a new interface, which could then be used in developing new games, much as would be the case for, say, a new button provided on a joystick.

Unlike the joystick with its new button, the user interface of the invention is physically no different from prior art touch screens. Nor does the user interact with it differently; they do so by touching the surface. The invention differs only in that a particular selection of coordinate data generates a further game parameter. In the Board's view the choice to do so is not driven by the engineer who is seeking to develop new touch-screen technology which might then be used in gaming applications. Rather, it originates with the game developer who wishes to make a more interesting game, and who does so by modifying the conditions and criteria that govern game play and which form part of the set of game rules in the wider sense. In a computer game, the conditions and criteria will include game input and how this is used to generate game parameters. In the Board's view therefore the idea to use the y as well as x coordinates of an input position on a touch screen to generate respective gaming parameters, given that these coordinates are necessarily already available in a touch screen interface (e.g. to verify that a user swipes across the sequence of dots in D3), is a pure games choice, made by the games developer specializing in developing computer games. That games developer will have some understanding of the hard- and software of a computer game console to the extent that they affect game play, and can thus make informed choices as to which of those available coordinates to use, and how these will influence game-play.
3.3.3 Although the claim does not relate to any one particular game, selecting the y coordinate of the start of a slide action determines how the player influences game-play in whichever game is being played. Furthermore, the player will be fully aware of how their slide action determines game play in that particular game.
In the golf-game example of the application (see application as published, paragraphs [0096] to [0109], figures 3 and 5), shot power, that is how far a golfball flies, is determined by the y coordinate of where the player first touches down on the screen (paragraph [0108]). This is displayed to the player in units of 10% (paragraph [0109]). Figure 5a shows the effect of touch-down on the displayed "full-shot" or 100% power line and figure 5b shows a different shot where the user's shot has 30% power. Thus the player immediately sees how they can influence game-play by appropriately picking from where they commence a slide operation that plays a shot. Put differently, in the context of this example, the choice of the y coordinate relates to a game rule, as defined above in section 2.42.4 . The rule could be worded as follows: To play a shot, touch your finger on the screen between the 0% power line 124 and the 100% power line 126, the vertical position of the touch-down point determines the power of your shot, then slide your finger towards the ball.
3.3.4 By the same token, when playing games according to the other examples of the application, the player is likewise presented with a vertical percentage scale that they can use to appropriately select their touch-down point to influence game play. For example, the scale may represent the power of kicking in a soccer game (figure 26), the amount of arm swing in a baseball game (figure 27) or the power of magic in a fighting game (figure 28). Thus, also for these games, the player is aware of how they can influence game-play by choosing a slide action vertical start position. Consequently, game rules that are contextually different yet similar in substance to the one for the golf game (see above, point ), underpins each game.
3.3.5 Thus, whilst claim 1 is not restricted to any particular game, and therefore its subject matter is not founded on any specific game rule, the Board considers that the game developer's choice of having the y coordinate of the slide start-point set a game parameter used in game processes nevertheless represents a non-technical generic scheme for playing various games. Therefore it is excluded from patentability under Article 52(2)(c) EPC.
However ingenious or powerful it may be for the game developer or player to have common elements in different games as this scheme offers, advantages resulting from this idea, are inherent to the non-technical scheme itself.
3.4 Adopting the approach outlined above in section 2.3 , inventive step cannot be found in the mere technical implementation of the above scheme, but must lie in the particular manner of implementation. It is therefore necessary to consider how this scheme is implemented in the game apparatus of claim 1. This question is to be considered from the view-point of the skilled person, a gaming software engineer rather than the game developer, who is tasked with modifying the prior art game apparatus of D3 to implement the above scheme.
3.5 As with any touch-screen, that of D3 will continuously provide both the x and y coordinates of points at which it is being touched (e.g. to ascertain that the screen is being touched within the region defined by the sequence of dots if figures 8 to 12). Given the task of implementing the above scheme, the skilled person will inevitably have to provide some means of setting a [further] first parameter according to the y coordinate provided by the touch screen operating surface at the start of the slide operation. Such a means is already available in the apparatus of D3 for setting a first parameter in accordance with the x coordinate of that point (see paragraph 3.13.1 ). Thus, as a matter of obviousness, the skilled person will merely adapt that means to set a further parameter according to the y coordinate of the slide-start. Likewise the skilled person will obviously use the existing game processor to perform game processes based on this parameter. Therefore they will arrive at the differing feature, means for setting a game parameter according to the y coordinate of the start of slide operation and using the game processor to perform game processes based on this parameter, without having made an inventive step.
3.6 Finally, that the claimed invention can be applied to different games, simplifying game development and making it easier to adapt from one game to another follows directly the generic nature of the underlying rule. These typical gaming benefits do not render it more technical. This applies also to alleged effects of a more powerful interface or reduced programming resources, which inherent in the game rule not its specific technical implementation.
3.7 In summary, the board holds that all the differing features of claim 1 with respect to D3 (see above point 3.23.2 ) follow in an obvious manner when the skilled person, a software engineer specialising in gaming software, is asked to implement the new game scheme allowing for setting a game parameter according to the y coordinate of the start of a slide operation, and using the parameter to perform game processes. The same conclusion holds for the computer readable medium of claim 34 and the method of claim 36 which rephrase the various elements of the apparatus of claim 1 in terms of their functions.
3.8 Therefore the subject matter of independent claims 1, 34 and 36 does not meet the requirements of Article 52(1) in combination with Article 56 EPC.
3.9 The Board notes that the impugned decision took an alternative approach, considering document D2, a handbook for a golf game implemented on a computer with a mouse user interface, as closest prior art. The decision found that it would be obvious for the skilled person to implement this game on a touch-screen gaming console, such as the Nintendo DS known to be prior art from document D1, and that this would lead to them to the invention as claimed in an obvious way, see decision reasoning, sections 2.2 to 2.6.
3.9.1 The Board agrees with the decision's conclusion in this respect. In particular the Board notes that D2 discloses how a player inputs a simulated golf swing to the game apparatus, called a true swing, on pages 24 and 25. How far the cursor on the screen is pulled down from the golfer's hands using the mouse (simulating a back-swing) determines the power of the shot (page 24, points 1 to 3). Thus the y coordinate of the end of the backswing position on the screen determines a parameter used in game processes. If the back-swing is made vertically down on the screen, the ball flies in a straight path, (page 25, first paragraph). Fades and draws, that is right and left biased flight paths, can be simulated by ending the back swing to the left or right of the vertical respectively (page 25, second paragraph). In other words the x coordinate of the end of the backswing position on the screen determines a flight direction game parameter that is used by the game processor to determine ball flight direction. Furthermore, where the backswing ends is also the start of the curser path (simulated swing) that ends at a particular area on the screen, namely the ball (see page 24, point 4).
3.9.2 The Board agrees with the decision that it would be obvious in the light of the use of touch screens as an alternative input means which was generally known to the skilled person before priority for them to implement the game on a touch screen (decision grounds, page 7, point 2.4.1, last paragraph). Position data which can be input by a mouse controlling a screen cursor can equally well be input on a touch screen, and such screens provide convenient interfaces for playing games. The Board finds the above conclusion all the more correct as before priority a touch screen console was already used in a Nintendo DS gaming console.
3.9.3 The Board notes that a touch screen always provides absolute coordinates of the point being touched, the frame of reference being the screen itself. The Board also notes that the claim does not suggest that the "predetermined requirement" is a touch-on point. It could for example equally well be the point where the backswing ends and the swing starts. Furthermore, nothing in claim 1 suggests that the "first area (122) set on said operating surface" can never change. Therefore, whether or not the ball in the game of D2 may move within the screen from shot to shot, it is still "set" for any particular shot, and it is with respect to this area that the player's swing is referenced. Lastly nothing in the claim suggests that the claimed apparatus has two screens, let alone an operating surface and a separate game screen. Thus, whether or not it would be obvious to separate game screen and operating surface when implementing the game of D2 on the Nintendo DS console is irrelevant to the question of inventive step.
Therefore the Board is also not convinced by the appellant's arguments that the impugned decision was wrong to conclude that claim 1 of the main request lacked an inventive step over D1, D2 and the skilled person's general knowledge (decision, page 7, point 2.5).

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