Posts Tagged ‘Business Method’

Case:

O/174/14

Claimed Subject Matter:

The alleged invention relates to a computer system and method for executing a point of sale transaction. In particular, the invention provides a point of sale terminal which is capable of receiving first price data from at least one item purchased by a customer and a server which receives both transaction data from the point of sale terminal and second price data pertaining to comparable competitor items from an update server so that the first and second price data can be compared and a voucher issued based on the comparison.

[This appears to be a patent application directed to Sainsbury’s Brand Match feature.]

Comments:

The Hearing Officer found that the actual contribution of the invention related entirely to a method of doing business which, as it was brought about by a computer program, also related to a computer program, as such. The invention was therefore excluded by section 1(2) and the application was refused.

Section 22 shows the risk of using an argument that is not present in the specification; the Hearing Office was sceptical of an argument based around quality control / self-checking that appeared to have little basis in the application as filed. As we have seen with many Europe cases, basing an argument on advantages not described in the patent application rarely succeed.

The Applicant attempted to argue that a technical contribution lay in “the overall architecture of  the computer system with technical components which in themselves are known but connected in a different way” . However, on applying step 3 of the Aerotel/Macrossan test the Hearing Officer was firmly of the view that “the actual contribution relates entirely to a way of conducting business” (see 27). This is because the actual contribution was deemed to be “about: (i) comparing prices, which manifestly is a business issue, and (ii) issuing a voucher with “value” information on it, which is also wholly a business issue”.

Section 29 has useful comments on whether the computer program exclusion is avoided. It was argued that “it is the connectivity of the components of hardware that creates the overall architecture of the invention” and that the computer program “lies in the middle of the system” but does not make up the whole system. This was found to be initially persuasive. However, the Hearing Officer concluded that the ” connectivity is necessarily brought about by a computer program” and that therefore lies “entirely in the programming itself”.

Case:

T 0218/11

Claimed Subject Matter:

A self-service checkout which solved the problem of the self-service checkout being overly sensitive (or conversely not sensitive enough) to people making mistakes (or conversely, trying to “cheat” the checkout).

Comments:

The Appellant argued that keeping track of customers and tolerating different numbers of errors when using the checkout was itself technical, and that this would form part of the problem for the technically skilled person to solve.

However, the Board concluded that judging whether a customer is trust-worthy and treating them according to that judgement was a non-technical matter. Hence, an underlying idea of recording a level of trust forms part of a requirements specification that is given to the skilled person; the technically skilled person is faced with the task of modifying the self-service checkout terminals so as to keep track of how trusted different customers are, and so as to interrupt transactions earlier for those customers who are less trusted, and later for those that are more trusted.

The features of the claimed solution was thus deemed to either be found in the prior art, be non-technical and thus not contribute to an inventive step, or be technically obvious given the defined technical problem.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

T 2216/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A a system that enabled subscribers of a wireless telecom operator to execute financial transactions with a mobile phone.

Comments:

The system was deemed to mainly relate to an excluded business scheme.

All steps of the underlying business scheme were deemed part of the information provided to the technician in charge of the technical implementation and did not as such contribute to inventive step.

The Appellant argued that the specific transaction platform and client software did not exist in a conventional wireless phone system, and so were out of reach of the normal activity of the person skilled in the art of telephone networks. However, the Board concluded that the person skilled in the art would be able to implement the new system, given the specifications of the underlying business scheme. For example, any extension of the type of financial transactions which can be performed with the account (receive monetary deposits, debit and credit operations) was deemed to be dictated by the underlying business scheme.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

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:

T 0506/08 [In German but Google translate does a reasonable job – use Chrome for translation “in the browser”.]

Claimed Subject Matter:

An online auction – in particular a method and apparatus for performing an electronic auction, in a communication network.

Comments:

The underlying technical problem relates to the performance bottleneck of the communication network and the networked computer. This is not resolved with the new auction only evaded (side-stepped) administratively. The circumvention of a technical problem using a business process step does not provide a technical means (T 258/03-HITACHI).

The overall purpose of the technical implementation of the computer auction is automation and thus  faster and easier handling.  However, this is the usual purpose of any technical computer-based automation. It therefore justifies no patent exceptionalism in favour of a particular type of business methods (auction). The economically motivated desire to protect business methods against imitators is not a sufficient criterion for access to patent protection.

An implementation of an extension of the deadline may include technical aspects (timing, comparison) but requires no inventive contribution. This is implicitly acknowledged by the application, which leaves the details of implementation to the skilled reader. The technical aspects of the application are only implied and assumed to be expert knowledge; only the rules for the implementation of the intended auction are presented in detail and explicitly.

Overall, the claimed method solves no technical problem in a technically inventive manner. It therefore does not fulfil the requirements of inventive step.

Case:

T 0313/10

Claimed Subject Matter:

Matching items with items in a table.

Comments:

This case confirms that one indication of technical character is that the method has an overall technical effect, such as controlling some physical process. On the facts, the claimed invention was found to provide either an abstract data-processing effect or, taking into account the specific embodiment of matching books and compact discs, an effect in the field of business. Neither of these effects was deemed to indicate technical character.

The board did indicate though that that, based on T 424/03  or T 1351/04, a technical effect may arise from “functional data structures”. For example, an index may have technical character as it controls a computer by directing it to a certain memory location. However on the facts of the present case, the indexes in the claim were well-known or “generic”.

Case:

T 1366/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Electronic signatures.

The scheme was found to differ from notorious common knowledge in commerce only by being adapted to modern technology in the form of electronic (e-) commerce and presenting a copy of a contract to a bank as evidence that payment is due.

Comments:

Partial problems were considered. The first problem was deemed to be how to implement a business scheme on a computer network. It was found to be obvious as it simply involved applying well-known technical means as equivalents of a manual paper process. The second problem was found to be purely a business or legal question, and so features relating to its solution could not contribute to the technical character of the claim.

Case:

T_1466/06

Claimed Subject Matter:

Method of supporting sales and maintenance of steam traps and an aggregating system for use in that method.

Comments:

Sampling and interpolation were deemed to be standard techniques.

A comparison was performed on selected data, but the comparison was used to inform a business decision. Thus there was deemed to be no technical effect.