EPO: Samsung animation system - technical purpose?

EPA: Samsung animation system - technical?

Can the adaptation of actions based on user information be considered a technical purpose? This question was the main issue in a recent appeal before the European Patent Office (EPO) concerning a rejected European patent application of Samsung Electronics Co, Ltd. for a data-based animation system.

Samsung animation system - inventive?

The application concerns a system for generating animations based on text-based data (e.g., from a text message or an e-mail). Based on the evaluation of, among other things, so-called emotional vocabulary, an action is to be performed automatically, with which a suitable animation is generated, matching the emotional vocabulary.

A similar procedure is also described in citation D1, which describes a system for generating an animation from text-based data, that is combined with an emotion classification.

Concerning the prior art and lack of inventive steps, the European patent application for the Samsung animation system had therefore been rejected by the Examining Division of the EPO. The examining division found that Samsung's animation script differed from the D1 in that it contained features (d) and (e): matching the action to the relationship type and degree (d) by an extraction unit combining the user profile and the data collected to select a matching emotion (e).
However, as these features were non-technical, the Samsung animation system was not to be considered inventive.

It was primarily against these findings of the decision that Samsung's appeal before the Board of Appeal of the EPO was directed (T 1008/ 19, the decision has been online since 17 August 2022).

Argumentation of Samsung: degree of relationship - technical purpose?

Is adapting actions to the degree of relationship to be considered a technical or non-technical purpose?

Samsung emphasized the inventiveness of its approach, enabling automation without asking each time for user relationship information reflecting the meaning and intentions of the sender to the recipient. Additionally, Samsung argued that it was in a way obvious for a skilled person to use action selection customization (between emotion prompting and animation script generation) based on user relationship information for automation. Samsung further argued that the "degree of intimacy" feature should be considered technical.

2nd auxiliary request: new argumentation

In particular, Samsung attempted to introduce new arguments for inventive steps with the 2nd auxiliary request (albeit filed late). Important aspects of the 2nd auxiliary request were:

- Reference databases were defined in claim 1 of the 2nd auxiliary request.
- The objective technical problem was formulated as follows: To modify D1 with the non-technical distinguishing features d) and e) to the extent necessary to implement the non-technical concept defined by the two distinguishing features in a technically reliable and efficient manner.

Defining the reference databases in claim 1 was successful: the claims of the 2nd auxiliary request were able to overcome the objections raised by the board. Nevertheless, the Board of Appeal rejected Samsung's argument.

Reasons for the decision on inventive step

Contrary to the appellant's submission, the board essentially followed the inventive step reasoning, the board of appeal said. Moreover, the technical problem formulated by the board and maintained at the oral proceedings (i.e., how to implement the additional non-technical user requirement in the system known from D1, see point 4.6 of the decision) was very similar to that in the contested decision.

In the contested decision, it rightly has been pointed out that the use of databases in the manner claimed was common knowledge. An increase in the "reasonableness of an act in the light of information about the user relationship" was non-technical, was the view in the contested decision.
Therefore, it should have been clear to the appellant that the degree of intimacy would not be considered a technical aspect, the Board of Appeal stated.

In any case, the 2nd auxiliary request had been filed late, only after the summons to oral proceedings had been served. If an auxiliary request is filed too late in the appeal proceedings, reasons must be given for this late filing (according to Article 13(1) RPBA 2020). However, the appellant had not provided any reasons.

Therefore, the Board of Appeal did not allow the second auxiliary request to proceed to trial.

The board of appeal held that adapting actions based on user relationship information was a non-technical purpose. Claim 1 of the main request and the 1st auxiliary request lacked inventive steps (Article 56 EPC).

Samsung's appeal was dismissed in its entirety. This decision was effectively communicated on the day of the oral proceedings. At the same time, this ended the appeal proceedings.

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