25 Oct 2017

T 1520/12 - Closest prior art and purpose

Key points

  • In this examination appeal, the Board acknowledges inventive step for a "system [for the supervision of an exterior environment of a motor vehicle] differs from the system of D1 in that it is installed in an exterior rear view mirror and in that it is adapted to detect the presence of objects susceptible to collide with said vehicle, namely [in the dead angle zone], and to warn the driver accordingly." 
  • The claim in found inventive in particular because " The mere finding that the skilled person would have adapted the system of D1 according to the geometry of the problem to be solved by taking into account the location of the dead angle relative to the vehicle and its trajectory may be correct, but is not conclusive. Such an approach namely relies on the assumption that the skilled person would have indeed considered using the system of D1 for the claimed purpose. Whether such an assumption is justified under the circumstances is, however, doubtful." 
  • Compare T 1742/12



EPO T 1520/12 - link

For these reasons, document D1 is considered to illustrate the closest prior art.
3.2 The claimed system [for the supervision of an exterior environment of a motor vehicle] differs from the system of D1 in that it is installed in an exterior rear view mirror and in that it is adapted to detect the presence of objects susceptible to collide with said vehicle, namely within a determined area behind the vehicle covering at least one dead angle, and to warn the driver accordingly.
The invention permits to warn the driver of risks of collision because of objects present in the area corresponding to the dead angle of a rear view mirror, taking due account of the fact that said dead angle may vary according to the trajectory followed by the vehicle (cf. page 4, lines 7-14).


3.3 The supervision system of D1 is conceived to detect the presence of obstacles in front of the vehicle.
The mere finding that the skilled person would have adapted the system of D1 according to the geometry of the problem to be solved by taking into account the location of the dead angle relative to the vehicle and its trajectory may be correct, but is not conclusive. Such an approach namely relies on the assumption that the skilled person would have indeed considered using the system of D1 for the claimed purpose. Whether such an assumption is justified under the circumstances is, however, doubtful.
3.4 In this respect, it is firstly noted that the supervision system of D1 is used to control an automatic braking system which is automatically activated in situations where the risk of collision is high. It is doubtful whether this course of action, which is perfectly justified for an obstacle in front of the vehicle, would still be adequate in the case of an object present in the dead angle of a rear mirror. Starting from the system disclosed in D1, the skilled person would thus have to dissociate the supervision system from the automatic braking system in order to arrive at the claimed subject-matter, even though D1 does not contain any hint to do so.
More fundamentally, and contrary to the view expressed by the examining division in the communication dated 26 January 2012 (cf. point 4), the system of D1 is not adapted for detecting the presence of objects within the area corresponding to the dead angle of a rear mirror on a vehicle. It is emphasised that the circumstances surrounding the identification of objects susceptible to collide with the vehicle are substantially different, depending on whether the object is expected to be in front of the vehicle or behind it. In the case, for example, of a vehicle moving along a curve turning left, the radar unit of D1 will react by limiting detection to a region along the travelling path, in accordance to the radius of curvature measured. In that particular example, said region will also be moved to the left relative to the direction followed by the vehicle, that is towards the inside of the curve. Since in D1 the control of said region depends de facto exclusively on the radius of curvature which has been measured, the system would react in exactly the same way if it were to supervise an area behind the vehicle. In that situation it would also limit detection to a region to the left relative to the axis of the capturing means and radar, that is towards the exterior of the curve. This effect would however be contrary to the aim followed by the invention which would require, in this particular situation, that the supervision area be moved towards the inside of the curve.
It follows that the system of D1 cannot be used, as such, for the claimed purpose. It requires some adaptation in order to take into account the specific geometry of the problem to be solved.
For these reasons, it is doubtful whether the skilled person would have ever envisaged using the system of D1 in order to solve the objective problem identified above. At any rate, in the absence in the prior art of any clear teaching to do so, any objection relying on such an assumption is to be rejected as ex post facto.
The same findings apply mutatis mutandis to the subject-matter of independent claim 19 as to the corresponding method for the supervision of an exterior environment of a motor vehicle.
3.5 Consequently, the subject-matter of claims 1 and 19 does not derive in an obvious manner from the prior art. It is thus inventive in the sense of Art. 56 EPC.

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