Case Law Review – T 972/07

Case:

T 0972/07

Claimed Subject Matter:

System and method of assisting goods collection (e.g.  to salvage the lens in disposable cameras).

Comments:

The appellant argued that the invention related to the recycling of goods, which they believed was technical.

The Board of Appeal disagreed. They argued that the invention was essentially concerned with logistical matters of collecting and distributing goods prior to the recycling process. It is those logistics that had to be examined for technical effect, not the recycling process, which is not claimed. In the present case, those logistics were found to be administrative in nature and lacking in technical character. The remaining technical features were simply well-known computers and databases. Any dependent claims related to improvements to the administrative method rather than the technical features.

This case can be distinguished from T 1411/08 wherein the case was remitted to the department of first instance to perform an additional search on the basis that the Examining Division did not convincingly demonstrate that certain technical features were “notorious”

Case Law Review – T 907/09

Case:

T 907/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

Valuation of a futures contract.

The application relates to data processing systems and methods for assessing the failure risk of a bundle of constructs that may individually fail. A resource amount is determined so as to counterbalance the failure risk when it is transferred. The risk assuming entity receives the resource amount.

Comments:

The claimed system is defined functionally in terms of means for storing and processing spread values and for continuously calculating a resource amount which reflects a value of a futures contract (which is based on a basket of credit default swaps). The claim is not limited to a technical field of application; on the contrary, its final paragraph emphasises a commercial goal.

The Board does not see any technical effect in knowing the resource amount or failure risk of a bundle of credit default swaps. The overall effect of the claimed system is that a mental, mathematical, commercial or administrative result is provided: What premium does the owner of the bundle have to offer so that another market participant is willing to take over the failure risk of the bundle?

Case Law Review – T 0844/09

Case:

T_0844/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A computer-implemented method of operating a verification system (100) for verifying details of transactions drawn upon a financial account and a user’s authorization to use the financial account, the method comprising:

    • receiving from a user, at a user interface (102), information identifying (204) a financial account which the user desires to use, before the user may initiate an online transaction using the financial account;
    • generating (208) a series of verifying transactions involving the financial account, with selected details of the transactions not being known to the user;
    • initiating (210) the series of verifying transactions from a transaction processor (106);
    • storing in storage means within the verification system a first set of details of said series of verifying transactions;
    • receiving (216) from the user, at the user interface, a test set of details, to include specified details of evidence of the verifying transactions retrieved by the user from his or her financial account;
    • comparing (218) said test set of details to said first set of details; and
    • if said test set of details matches said first set of details, authorizing (220) the user to conduct online transactions using the financial account.

Comments:

Claim 1 concerns a computer-implemented method of operating a verification system for verifying details of transactions drawn upon a financial account and a user’s authorization to use the financial account. It thus relates to the field of schemes, rules and methods for doing business, which shall not be regarded as inventions pursuant to Article 52(2)(c) EPC. The corresponding features in claim 1 are deemed to be non-technical. The method of claim 1 is, however, defined to be computer-implemented and thus involves a computer as technical means, with a transaction processor, storage means and a user interface. The corresponding features in claim 1 are technical. Claim 1, thus, contains both non-technical and technical features and has technical character as a whole. Accordingly, the subject-matter of claim 1 is not a scheme, rule or method for doing business as such. The patentability of the subject-matter of claim 1 is, therefore, not considered to be excluded under Article 52(2) and (3) EPC (cf T 258/03 (OJ EPO 2004, 575), reasons 3 and 4).

Although verifying a user’s authorization to use a financial account may in certain cases involve an administrative procedure lacking technical character, this is not considered to be the case for the subject-matter of claim 1.

The verification of the user’s authorization to use a financial account in the present case, in particular the recognition that the retrieval by the user of transaction details offers a convenient and secure channel for forwarding transaction authentication information to the user, and the realization that “verifying” transactions can be generated and initiated to contain the transaction authentication information, relies on a technical understanding of the operation of the transaction system and its respective components and, thus, lies within the scope of a technically qualified person working in the field of computer-implemented online financial transaction systems and notably entrusted with the security aspects thereof.

Neither the business professional nor the administrative professional would, in the board’s judgement, be qualified and indeed able to devise any of these ideas as they lie outside their areas of competence.

Accordingly, the above consideration relating to the verification of the user’s authorization to use a financial account cannot be included in the formulation of the technical problem, contrary to what is essentially argued in the decision under appeal applying the principles of decision T 641/00 (cf above).

Still, the remaining features of claim 1 relating to a financial transaction refer to an aim to be achieved in the field of schemes, rules and methods of doing business, deemed to be non-technical, which may legitimately appear in the formulation of the problem (following T 641/00 above).

The appellant argued that since the user had to obtain transaction details online relating to a previous or test transaction, effectively he had to pass two levels of verification in order to use an account.

This argument is, however, not convincing. In conventional online-banking systems, involving the use of lists of Transaction Authentication Numbers (TAN) provided to the user like in D3, the user gains online access to a bank account via an internet site of his bank, typically by entering the bank account number and a password, thereby passing a first level verification. At this point, the user has eg direct access to his financial statements or can initiate a fund transfer for which a TAN will be needed. In the case envisaged in the application and covered by claim 1 where the transaction authenticator in the form of a set of details of evidence of a verifying transaction is available through online access to the financial statement of the bank account, a fraudulent user will, thus, have unrestricted access to the transaction authenticator. Accordingly, no second level verification needs to be passed in this case.

The objective problem to be solved relative to document D3, accordingly, is to provide transaction authenticators to the user in an alternative manner.

The claimed solution consists in:
– generating (208) a series of verifying transactions involving the financial account, with selected details of the transactions not being known to the user;
– initiating (210) the series of verifying transactions from a transaction processor (106);
– storing in storage means within the verification system a first set of details of said series of verifying transactions;
– receiving (216) from the user, at the user interface, a test set of details, to include specified details of evidence of the verifying transactions retrieved by the user from his or her financial account;
– comparing (218) said test set of details to said first set of details; and
– if said test set of details matches said first set of details, authorizing (220) the user to conduct online transactions using the financial account.

This solution is not rendered obvious by document D3.

Case Law Review – T 0702/08

Case:

T_0702/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Process Monitoring.

The claim referred generally to “process objects” and “task objects”.

Comments:

On the facts the Board considered the term “object” to have a broad meaning encompassing the general concept of a “goal” or “objective” at an administrative management level; there was no unambiguous correlation between the described (business and process) “objects” and object-oriented programming. This suggests that a specific technical mapping between abstract concepts and their technical implementation needs to be set out in any description.

Case Law Review – T 1866/08

Case:

T_1866/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Approach for tracking data (Yahoo! Inc.)

A method for operating an intermediary computer to track data requested by a user from a source server over a network, wherein the source server is arranged to communicate with the intermediary computer via a first network communications link, and the intermediary computer is arranged to communicate with the user via a second network communications link, the method comprising the computer-implemented steps of:

    • receiving (206), at the intermediary computer (104), the requested data from the source server (102); and
    • supplying (212), via the second network communications link, the requested data from the intermediary computer to the user (106);

characterised in that the method comprises the intermediary computer performing the steps of:

    • determining (208) whether the requested data includes rights data that indicates an owner of rights to the requested data; and
    • if the data includes the rights data:
      • (a) determining whether the source is associated with the owner of rights to the data; and
      • (b) if the source is not associated with the owner of rights to the requested data, then the intermediary computer not allowing the requested data to be supplied to the user; and
      • (c) if the source is associated with the owner of rights to the requested data, then the intermediary computer supplying the data to the user and recording (210) that the requested data was supplied.

Comments:

The examination decision under appeal states that the difference between the claimed invention and the cited art  “merely” represents “the steps per formed by a data tracking and transmission system that implements rules about what to do with the traffic and registers th[ese] activities” and that the “task of tracking data traffic is a mere administrative task”.

In passing it is argued that these rules and tasks were well-known, for example from the “activity of a librarian registering incoming and outgoing books of the library”. The only technical features of claim 1 were merely “data transmission and data recording” and these were known from the prior art. The remaining features did not, so the argument, solve a technical problem but an administrative one, namely to “control the distribution of unauthorised data” which would belong to the non-technical “domain of the administration of property”. This difference, especially within the context of D1 which is already adapted to “[implement] rules driven by a detect ion event” (see again reasons 2.2), would amount to a mere automation of this administrative task, and if its performance were improved by the automation then only to the extent that any computer automation would cause such improvement, without any further technical effect. This difference could thus not establish an inventive step.

The board in the present appeal case takes a difference perspective on the invention.

The board concedes that the claimed invention has administrative aspects but considers that these cannot be stripped from the technical context in which they occur. The claimed invention relates to the “tracking” and delivery control of “data requested by a user from a source server over a network” in view of that source server. The board fails to see how this would be analogous to, let alone known from, the activity of a librarian “registering incoming and outgoing books of the library”, or why the skilled person trying to improve the system of D1, would turn to the activities of a librarian for help. The board also considers that the claimed invention goes beyond the mere implementation of a non-technical administrative task without any effect beyond the benefits of any computer automation (see decision under appeal, reasons 2.3, last sentence). Rather, in the board’s view, the effect of the invention over D1 is tied to a specifically technical situation, namely the request and download of data by a user over a network from a server, as is now clearly claimed. In this respect, the board agrees with the appellant in considering an automated, network-based mechanism to control and authorize the delivery of data as solving a technical problem (see grounds of appeal, point 3.16).

Case was remitted for further search as it was doubted whether the feature of delivery control was exhaustively searched:

    • Due to the fact that this feature was substantially less prominent in the claims of the originally examined application.
    • because the preamble of all claims by referring to “tracking data” rather than delivery control may have further detracted from the importance attached to this feature, and
    • because the examining division considered it to be of no technical relevance.