Author Archive

Monitoring airport data and automation of cover payments in case of airport closures: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to a system that deals with airport closures and related flight plan changes due to natural disaster events. More specifically, based on given business rules, an automatic payment of financial compensation is paid to the airlines affected by the airport closures. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the the relevant features would only refer to a non-technical business scheme. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0524/19 () dated September 16, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

Policies drawn up by the notional business person are typically non-technical.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present decision as follows:

2.1.1 The volcanic activity in Iceland in 2010 and the subsequent closure of airspace led to an estimated loss of 1.7 billion dollars for the airline industry. Between 15 and 21 April 2010 almost the entire European airspace was closed resulting in cancellation of all flights in, to and from Europe. The invention relates to dealing with such airport closures and related flight plan changes due to natural disaster events.

2.2 When aircraft are grounded for more than ten days, airline companies may no longer be able to pay the operating resources (kerosene, salaries, maintenance etc.) due to lack of revenues. It is an aim of the invention to reduce the risk that airline companies go bankrupt due to lack of cash for operation during or after natural disaster events. The airlines seek risk transfer by means of insurance technology to cover such unforeseeable events and to ensure operation of the aircraft fleets. The related technology should be able to cover risk events such as 1) strikes, riots etc.; 2) war, hijacking, terror; 3) pandemic-based risks; 4) extreme weather situations; 5) instabilities in Air Traffic Control (ATC); 6) volcanic ash. However, the covers are technically difficult to design because no standards e.g. for critical ash concentrations exist. It is an object of the invention to provide an automated system preventing imminent grounding of aircraft fleets due to missing financial resources after risk events and to provide a systematic and automated management of risk exposure.

2.3 The invention proposes determining, based on given business rules, the automatic payment of financial compensation to the affected business units, i.e. airlines and their fleets. This object is solved by monitoring relevant airport data, defining critical thresholds, and automation of cover payments in case of airport closures.

Fig. 1 of WO 2014/009415 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request (filed as Annex A):

  • Claim 1 (main request - labelling added by the Board)

Is it technical?

The Board in charge considered D1 to form the closest prior art for the subject-matter of claim 1 and identified the following distinguishing features, wherein technical ones are presented in italic:

2.6.1 The main differences are therefore (…):

(a) payment-receiving modules;

(b) automated transfer of risk exposure associated to the aircraft fleets is provided (= automated premium payment);

(c) means for receiving flight plan data stored in a selectable trigger-table;

(d) airport closures are matched with natural disaster event data comprised in a predefined searchable table of natural disaster events;

(e) wherein each risk is related to parameters of a table element, defining the natural disaster events,

(f) setting flags in the table of corresponding risk together with storing related natural disaster event data and/or measuring parameters indicating at least time of occurrence and/or affected region of the natural disaster event;

(g) for a match a trigger-flag is set to the assigned risk exposed aircraft fleets of the airport indicator and a parametric transfer of payments is assigned to the trigger-flag;

(h) the payments are automatically scaled based on the likelihood of said risk exposure, the number of pooled risk exposed aircraft fleets is self-adapted;

(i) the payouts are activated only if said transmission comprises a definable minimum number of airport identifications assigned to airport closings thus creating an implicit geographic spread of the closed airports of the flight plan;

(j) a failure deployment device (6) of the system (1) triggers the payout.

Then, the Board identified the effects of said features as follows (technical ones in italic):

2.7 Technical effects

2.7.1 The following (technical/non-technical) effects can be identified:

(a) payment-receiving modules: these means are implicit for any automated payment system; no specific technical effect is related thereto.

(b) automated transfer of risk exposure: these features are purely related to a business method;

(c) means for receiving flight plan data: these means are implicit when dealing with flight plan tables;

(d) a selectable trigger-table for flight plan data: storing flight plan data (in a table) implies that assignments of aircraft to specific airports can be extracted from the table;

(e) airport closures are matched: from the closed airports it can be inferred that a natural disaster has occurred;

(f) natural disaster event table: a time-dependent mapping of the occurrence of a natural disaster can be established;

(g) table with predefined risk: a risk evaluation based on the impact of a natural disaster related to a specific airport/fleet can be performed;

(h) automated and scaled payments: risk evaluation for calculating insurance cover and insurance reimbursement is related to a business method;

(i) geographic spread: mapping of airport closures in combination with the previous features allows matching of airport closures to a specific natural disaster;

(j) failure deployment device of the system: D1 discloses a failure deployment device. Linking the failure deployment device to the automatic payout realises electronically triggered payments.

Specifically with respect to feature (T), the Appellant was of the opinion that this features provides a technical effect:

2.7.2 The Appellant argued that feature (T), namely that an automatic payout can only take place if a minimum number of airport closings created “an implicit geographic spread of the closed airports of the flight plan”, had the technical effect that a certain natural disaster can be inferred from easily ascertainable data (which airport is closed when and where?) without a great deal of computing and detection effort. This did not directly result from the insurance conditions and could not be specified by the notional business person. Consequently, this feature was purely technical.

2.7.3 Since the primary technical effect of feature (T) was that a natural disaster could be detected, it could not be argued that the technical effect was “diminished” by the fact that in the final effect it served exclusively to pay out an insurance premium. In general, the primary technical effect of a non-technical feature could not be diminished by the fact that in the final effect it serves exclusively a non-technical or business purpose. This would be tantamount to imputing technical knowledge to the notional business person. If non-technical features had both a technical and a non-technical effect, the technical effect had to be taken into account when assessing inventive step (see related case T 698/19, catchword).

However, the Board in charge found that feature (T) would only refer to a pure business constraint which is not technical:

2.7.4 However, the Board is of the opinion that, while a trigger feature such as a “minimum number of airport identifications assigned to airport closings” might, in certain contexts, be seen as technical, feature (T) must be assessed as a whole and in the context of the claimed invention. The above trigger condition serves exclusively as a condition that “said assignment of the parametric transfer of payments is automatedly (sic) activated”, hence to implement the insurance policy and initiate the payment.

2.7.5 Feature (T) as a whole does not allow a natural disaster to be “detected” in any technical sense, it is merely an arbitrary rule based on a statistical inference from known data on airport closures. Certainly the notional business person has no knowledge of computer programming or detector design, but this is not what is claimed. The insurance business is based on probability and statistics, and the insurance business person must surely have some knowledge of their own business. Such a person would understand that if only one airport were closed, there is a high probability that it may be due to a local problem, whereas if ten airports in western Europe were closed, it is much more probable that a natural emergency is the cause. If the aim is to insure only against natural emergencies, then looking at previous statistical records would provide a suitable minimum number of airport closures to use in the policy. The Board does not see any technology at work here, it is just a choice by the notional business person drawing up the policy. For example, if, in a given region, the minimum number of airport closures required to trigger a payout is set to four, then if only three airports are closed, there is no payout, even if the closures are actually due to a natural disaster. So it is not a matter of “recognising” a natural disaster in the technical sense, but only a rule for a payout, which therefore has a purely economic effect.

Then, the Board summarized the effects of the distinguishing features as follows:

2.7.7 …

(i) minimum number of airport closures triggers the automated payment; the character of the features concerned is non-technical, the purpose is non-technical (transfer of financial risks)

(ii) identifying type and risk factor of a natural disaster based on flight plan data, airport closures and a natural disaster event table with associated risks; the character of the features concerned is technical, the purpose is both technical (risk evaluation) and non-technical (transfer of financial risks).

(iii) automatisation of payments; the character of the payment means used is technical, the character of the implemented method (features (Q) to (S2), (U), (V)) is non-technical.

Afterwards, the Board found that the notional business person would define the business framework described in the application as follows::

2.8.1 The Board is of the opinion that the notional business person, who does not have any technical knowledge or technical skills, defines in the insurance policy the following business framework conditions for the system:

(a) It must be defined which specific geophysical events (volcano ash, riots, hurricanes, strikes etc.) are covered (or not).

(b) It must further be defined in the insurance conditions which airports/specific regions, which specific time interval and which specific types of event are to be taken into account, e.g. only Eurasian and American airport closures may be taken into account for a minimum of seven consecutive days of closure, financial damage due to strike within the airline company and closures for less than seven days may not be taken into account etc.

(c) Another implicit condition is that only groundings of scheduled aircraft (i.e. according to a flight plan) are considered.

(d) The correlation between the risk factor and the premium payed out must further be defined in the policy.

(e) The scaling factor for the scaled payments must be defined.

(f) As discussed above a further condition may be that payouts are triggered only when a minimum number of aircraft of a fleet is concerned. A clause may be provided that reimbursement is only provided when “clustering” of airport closures occurs, i.e. the payments are only activated if there are massive airport closures and a natural event is classified as a natural disaster (e.g. four airports in a given region).

To solve this problem, the notional business person would simply instruct a computer specialist to program a computer system accordingly:

2.8.2 … In the present case the notional business person (e.g. insurance company in cooperation with the airline companies concerned) instructs a computer specialist with the implementation of an automated system. Their task is to adapt the software in the central computer.

The Board then concluded that the problem to be solved could be formulated as follows, including the wording of the features that it considered non-technical:

2.8.4 The technical problem to be solved therefore can be defined as providing a systematic and automated management of financial and technical risk exposure associated to cancellation of scheduled flights due to airport closures caused by natural disasters, including implementing the claimed non-technical features (Q) to (V).

On the effects (i)-(iii) identified above, the Board commented as follows:

ad (i)

2.9.3 The failure of several airports in Germany due to lack of gas, in France due to strike, in Ukraine due to war and in Italy due to earthquake was discussed. These cases may not all be covered by the insurance policy, but it needs a quantitative parameter to determine a “disaster”, and this quantitative parameter is defined in the insurance policy and given by the notional business person to the technically skilled person for implementation. The insurance conditions require monitoring airport closures within defined regions (“geographic spread”), and it would be straightforward for the technically skilled person to arrive at an appropriate means for implementing this in an automatic manner.

ad (ii)

2.9.4 It is (at least implicitly) a non-technical constraint that the amount to be paid out should be dependent on the number of aircraft actually impacted by the airport closures. Therefore, in order to deal with the technical and financial consequences of airport closures, the Board is of the opinion that it is obvious to the skilled person to consider the concerned airports and flight plan routes to and from the closed airports according to a selectable flight plan table (if only scheduled flight are covered by the insurance policy). In view of the objective technical problem to be solved, it is a normal option to monitor which flight plan connection (and therefore which fleets and airlines) are concerned by the closure of specific airports and air-spaces. Furthermore, the emergency system of D3 teaches ([0084]) to take flight plan data into account. The skilled person would therefore adapt the software architecture of D1 and correlate the airport closure events with the flight plan data. Flight plan data is in general available in form of a selectable trigger-table in order to retrieve the data.

2.9.5 It is a normal option to provide a time-dependent mapping of airport closures in relation to the aircraft being concerned and setting a trigger-flag to the assigned risk exposed aircraft fleets of the airport indicator.

2.9.6 Clustering, i.e. a minimum number of aircraft closures in a mapped region, is considered a pre-requisite for payment and a non-technical constraint. Also paying out according to the number of aircraft concerned is a non-technical constraint (see the related case T 288/19). The technically skilled person merely has to solve the (technical) problem of the technical implementation, i.e. the implementation of the business constraints, into the software system. The skilled person would therefore extract the flight plan data accordingly and map the (temporal or geographical) evolution. It is a normal option to monitor which flight plan connections (and therefore which airlines and aircraft) are concerned by the closure of specific airports and to provide a time-dependent mapping of the data (feature (P)).

ad(iii)

2.9.7 Features (Q) to (V), relate to automatically triggering payouts of insurance covers, and directly result from the problem to be solved. Furthermore, the parameterization of the risk evaluation and reimbursement model is ultimately influenced by business requirements (see also reasons 2.13 of T 1798/13).

2.9.8 In T 848/15 (reasons 3.2) it was held that insurance risk management related exclusively to economic considerations in the framework of purely economic models defined by an economist and therefore was not inventive within the meaning of Article 56 EPC (cf. also T 698/19, reasons 3.8.2 ff). Accordingly, non-technical features purely relating to an insurance model (e.g. non-technical part of features (b), (h) to (j) in the present case, see point 2.7.1 above) are obvious for the same reasoning.

Against this background, the Board found that claim 1 lacks inventive step and thus dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0524/19 () of September 16, 2022

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Presenting information of interest to a user based on a user profile: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to a system with the ability to self-configure after the installation of new data sources. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the the distinguishing features would only refer to the mere presentation of information. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2021/17 (Intelligent agents/UNIVERSITY of STRATHCLYDE) dated October 7, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

The customisation of information to be displayed according to the interest of a user is not technical.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present decision as follows:

1.1 The invention concerns monitoring the condition of hardware and/or machines, such as transformers in a power station (see Figure 17 of the published application).

Data from e.g. vibration or temperature sensors (“condition data sources”) is processed in a “conditioning monitoring platform” and displayed via a user interface. The objective is to dynamically adapt to new data sources and processing capabilities without the user having to search for new features (paragraph bridging pages 25 and 26).

This is achieved by using “intelligent agents”, which are software entities that act autonomously to achieve goals based on the environment (see e.g. page 8, lines 20ff.). Such agents are said to react to changes in the environment (reactivity – R), work without external prompting (pro-activity – P) and interact with other agents (social ability – S).

Fig. 1 of WO 2011/045571 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the third auxiliary request:

  • Claim 1 (third auxiliary request)

Is it technical?

Since the third auxiliary request provides the narrowest scope, the Board in charge directed its assessment to this request. According to the Board, in accordance with the Appellant’s view, D1 forms the closest prior art for the subject-matter of claim 1 of the third auxiliary request. The Board identified the following distinguishing features over D1:

2.6 In the Board’s view, D1 does not disclose dynamically building a user profile based on the interests of the user. There is no mechanism for interacting with the user by presenting user selectable options and receiving user selections. …

Another difference is that, while in D1 the different functions are all preformed by the same agent, the tasks are in claim 1 divided between “user assistants”, “data managers”, “service managers” which communicate with each other. …

In D1, when a new data source is added, a new agent is added to handle it. In claim 1 of the third auxiliary request, when a new data source is added, an associated data manger is added. The claimed system also allows the addition of one or more data analysis functions and an associated service manager. …

Based on the above-identified distinguishing features, the Board in charge discussed the existence of a technical effect concerning these features as follows:

2.7 The question is what technical effect, if any, is provided by the user profile and the division of tasks and interaction between the various agents.

In the Board’s view, presenting information of interest to the user based on a user profile is not technical, and cannot therefore contribute to inventive step under the “Comvik approach” (see T 641/00 – Two identities/COMVIK). …

Specifically, the Board found that this kind of customization of the data to be presented is only based on the interest of the user:

Although the presentation of information relating to a technical condition in an apparatus or system may arguably be regarded as technical (see e.g. T 115/85 – Computer-related invention and T 528/07 – Portal system/ACCENTURE), the Board does not consider that the technical character extends to the customisation of such information. The customisation is not based on any technical criteria, but merely on the interest of the user.

Against this view, the Appellant argued that the invention would, besides the customization of what is shown to the user, control communication between the claimed data managers and user assistants to provide better data. However, the Board did not follow this argument:

2.9 The Board does not see that this is a technical effect that could support the presence of an inventive step. In any personalised information system, the user profile determines how the system responds. The particular organisation of tasks, and the interaction between the various agents is, in the Board’s view a matter of software implementation.

In addition, the application underlying the present decision would lack any technical definition that could distinguish the claimed agents from a common software implementation:

The Board notes that there is no definition for what an agent is in terms of technical properties either in the application or even generally in the art (see D1, II.A). Thus, the agents in claim 1 cannot be distinguished from software modules suitable for implementing the desired functions. In the Board’s view, the internal structure of a computer program, for example the particular configuration of software modules, objects, or, indeed, “agents”, does not provide a further technical effect in the sense of T 1173/97 – Computer program product/IBM, i.e. an effect that goes beyond the normal effects of running software on a computer.

Hence, in the Board’s view, the distinguishing features could not provide any technical effect. As a result, and because the main and the first and second auxiliary requests cover the subject-matter of claim 1 of the third auxiliary request, the appeal was dismissed due to lack of inventive step according to the COMVIK approach.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2021/17 (Intelligent agents/UNIVERSITY of STRATHCLYDE)

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Randomly selecting a number of game results for which dynamic raised odds are respectively generated: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to a gambling game system that provides additional awards. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the the first distinguishing features of claim 1 would be rendered obvious, whereas the second distinguishing features would fail to provide a technical effect. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1497/19 () of May 18, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

Rules for playing a game cannot contribute to an inventive step within the meaning of Articles 52(1) EPC in combination with Article 52(2)(c) EPC.

The invention

In the Abstract of the application, the invention is described as follows:

The invention refers to a gambling game system providing additional awards aims to increase the odds thereof. The gambling game system includes a central control unit to receive game results generated by a game result generation device, players’ betting received by a betting table and dynamic raised odds generated by a dynamic raised odds calculation element. After the betting is stopped in each round of game, the dynamic raised odds are output to an electronic display board to be displayed instantly and respectively on a plurality of display zones, and the game results, the players’ betting and the dynamic raised odds are transmitted to a payout element. The payout element pays out to the players who win the betting in one round of the game according to the payout odds or the dynamic raised odds which are at higher priority, so that the players can expect to get extra awards, and the appeal of the gambling game system is higher to further increase utilization of the gambling game system (cf. EP 2 899 701 A1, Abstract).

Fig. 1 of EP 2 899 701 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

As a first step, the Board in charge determined the following two distinguishing features, which are not disclosed by the closest prior art document D1:

The subject-matter defined in claim 1 differs from the gambling game system known from document D1 by the following two distinguishing features:

– the use of a touch screen and

– the random selection of a specific number of game results for which dynamic raised odds are respectively generated / selected.

According to the Board, the two distinguishing features do not produce a synergistic effect. Hence, both features do not have to be considered together but it is enough to show that each of the two features is individually obvious.

Concerning the first distinguishing feature, the Board found that it relates to a straightforward non-inventive design option:

2.3.1 The first distinguishing feature solves the problem of how to efficiently realise the input panel. It concerns a well-known, straightforward design choice which cannot provide an inventive contribution. Document D1 even hints at this realisation in figures 3, 5 and 7, all of which show versions of the game table display on the electronic screen on which interaction with the players or bankers is possible. The shown screens include user-interaction buttons inside/on the display, i.e., the cash out, redo bet, cancel, help buttons in the lower line or lower right corner of each of these figures. The realisation of these buttons is not further specified in document D1. However, the skilled person would have been aware of the two most obvious realisations: either in form of physical buttons or in form of a touch screen. Hence, the implementation using a touch screen represents one obvious choice out of the limited number of two possible choices. This feature does not provide any inventive contribution over the prior art.

With respect to the second distinguishing feature, the Board found that it would only relate to game rules. Hence, this feature was considered non-technical and therefore cannot contribute to inventive step.

2.3.2 The second distinguishing feature concerns rules for playing a game and as such does not contribute to an inventive step within the meaning of Articles 52(1) EPC in combination with Article 52(2)(c) EPC, because it relates to a non-technical feature. The claim’s overall technicality is not questioned, but the technical contribution of the second distinguishing feature resides only in the standard automation and implementation of a non-technical rule, namely a specific gaming rule in the gambling game system. The specific gaming rule concerns the choice of how the dynamic raised odds are to be calculated or determined. It is consequently a non-technical rule selected by the game designer. It also offers no further technical advantage nor produces a further technical effect, as it is merely implemented into the gambling system in a straightforward manner by the software programmer. Hence, the second distinguishing feature cannot provide an inventive step, either, due to its missing technicality.

Against this background, the Board in charge dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1497/19 () of May 18, 2022

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Developing rod patterns in nuclear reactors based on a simulation: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to developing rod patterns in nuclear reactors based on a simulation. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the relevant features of claim 1 would not produce a technical effect. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2660/18 (Developing rod patterns in nuclear reactors/GLOBAL NUCLEAR FUEL-AMERICAS) of December 7, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

A technical effect must be achieved over substantially the whole scope of the claimed invention.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision relates to determining rod pattern (or blade pattern) designs for a nuclear reactor core.

The description outlines the underlying problem as follows:

[0002] A core of a nuclear reactor such as boiling water reactor (BWR) or pressurized water reactor (PWR) has several hundred individual fuel bundles of fuel rods (BWR) or groups of fuel rods (PWR) that have different characteristics. These bundles (fuel rod groups) are preferably arranged so that interaction between rods within a fuel bundle (rod group), and between fuel bundles (fuel rod groups) satisfies all regulatory and reactor design constraints, including governmental and customer-specified constraints. Additional, the rod pattern design, e.g., the arrangement of control mechanisms such as control blades (BWR) or control rods (PWR) within the core must be determined so as to optimize core cycle energy. Core cycle energy is the amount of energy that a reactor core generates before the core needs to be refreshed with new fuel elements, such as is done at an outage.

[0006] A Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensed core simulation program reads the resulting input file and outputs the results of the simulation to a text or binary file. A designer then evaluates the simulation output to determine if the design criteria has been met, and also to verify that no violations of margins to thermal limits have occurred. Failure to meet design criteria (i.e., violations of one or more limits) require a manual designer modification to the input file. Specifically, the designer would manually change one or more operation parameter and rerun the core simulation program. This process was repeated until a satisfactory rod pattern design was achieved.

[0007] This process is extremely time consuming. …

Fig. 4 of EP 1 435 626 A2

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

First of all, the Board stated that the closest prior art document D1 fails to teach the following two features of claim 1:

7. The distinguishing features of claim 1 having regard to the disclosure of document D1 are thus:

(DF1) defining the sets of limits using a database server

(DF2) comparing the simulated results against the limits using a total objective function which is the sum of all individual constraint components defined by

OBJpar = MULTpar * (RESULTpar- CONSpar),

where CONS is a limit of the defined set of limits for a particular constraint parameter (par); RESULT is one of the simulation results for that particular constraint parameter and MULT is a multiplier for the constraint parameter.

However, both features would only refer to obvious measures.

In addition, more interestingly, the Board ruled that claim 1 also lacks an inventive step in view of a general-purpose computer. Against this assessment, the Appellant argued as follows:

15. The appellant argued that the technical effect was “reducing the time to design rods and doing so in a safe manner” and the “implicit use of the modified rods in the reactor that was simulated for operating the reactor safely within target operating and core performance value limits”. The technical effect resulted from a computer-based arrangement that provided “a way to efficiently develop a rod pattern design for a nuclear reactor, where the rod pattern design represented a control mechanism for operating the reactor”, as well as a “computer-based method for providing internal and external users the ability to quickly develop, simulate, modify and perfect a rod pattern design for (implicit) use in their reactor” (letter of 19 November 2021, pages 8 and 9).

However, the Board in charge explained that such an effect would not be produced by the distinguishing features:

15.1 The board does not see such an effect coming from the distinguishing features. Moreover, the same effects are achieved by the method disclosed in document D1 (see abstract: “The system is successfully demonstrated by generating control rod programming for the 2894-MW (thermal) Kuosheng nuclear power plant in Taiwan. The computing time is tremendously reduced compared to programs using mathematical methods.”).

Furthermore, to convince the Board, the Appellant referred to T 0625/11, cited in the G1/19 decision:

16. During the oral proceedings, the appellant also cited decision T 625/11. In case T 625/11, the board concluded that the determination, as a limit value, of the value of a first operating parameter conferred a technical character to the claim which went beyond the mere interaction between the numerical simulation algorithm and the computer system. The nature of the parameter thus identified was, in fact, “intimately linked to” the operation of a nuclear reactor, independently of whether the parameter was actually used in a nuclear reactor (T 625/11, Reasons 8.4).

However, contrary to the parameters used in T0625/11, in the Board’s view, the claimed limits might correspond to limits set by a human person or by an organization:

17.1 The limits are “limiting or target operating and core performance values for a specific reactor plant or core energy cycle”. They might correspond to limits set by an administrative authority such as the NRC mentioned in the application (page 2, second full paragraph).

Hence, the Board maintained its position that no technical effect is produced by the distinguishing features as no parameter is identified by the claimed method that is intimately linked to the operation of a nuclear reactor, as it is the case in the method according to T 0625/11:

18. The board is of the opinion that no technical effect is achieved by the method’s functionality as the method merely produces a test rod pattern (i.e. a fuel bundle configuration) design and data “indicative of limits that were violated by the proposed test rod pattern design during the simulation”.

19. Thus, contrary to case T 625/11, no parameter is identified that is “intimately linked to” the operation of a nuclear reactor.

Moreover, the rod pattern design and the limits cold both not be directly used in a reactor:

Although the method yields a rod pattern design and provides limits of core performance values for a reactor plant having this design, this rod pattern design and the limits cannot be used directly in a nuclear reactor system. The rod pattern would first need to be manufactured.

In addition, a rod pattern could also be used for study purposes and thus may be utilized in non-technical applications, and therefore, a technical effect would not be achieved over substantially the whole scope of the claimed invention (G 1/19, points 94 and 95):

Moreover, a rod pattern design appears to have non-technical uses such as for study purposes. These are “relevant uses other than the use with a technical device”, and therefore a technical effect is not achieved over substantially the whole scope of the claimed invention (G 1/19, points 94 and 95). In fact, the reactor for which the rod pattern was designed may not yet have been built and may never be built.

Hence, the present case would not be an exceptional case in which calculated effects achieved by a simulation could be considered as implied technical effects:

Hence, this is not an “exceptional case” in which calculated effects can be considered implied technical effects (see decision G 1/19, points 94, 95 and 128).

Since also the auxiliary requests were considered obvious, as a result, the appeal was dismissed due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2660/18 (Developing rod patterns in nuclear reactors/GLOBAL NUCLEAR FUEL-AMERICAS) of December 7, 2021

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Publishing of addresses and programs: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to a method of creating a generic wireless communication platform for user applications in an area of wireless communications. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the relevant features of claim 1 would either be rendered obvious by the cited prior art or would only refer to non-technical aspects. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0999/16 (Wireless communication platform/IQRF) of February 4, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.03:

Key takeaways

Activities depending on administrative considerations are non-technical and thus cannot contribute to inventive step.

The invention

According to EP 1 768 268 A2, the invention underlying the present decision relates to an arrangement of a module for wireless communication between electric or electronic equipment or systems, in high frequency bands at least in the range of 300 MHz to 2.60 GHz, particularly for home and office automation systems. Said electric or electronic equipment includes controls for electronics, and can be controlled or can provide data, for example a cordless thermometer. The invention also involves the method of controlling it and a method of creating generic platforms for user applications in the area of wireless communications with those modules (cf. EP 1 768 268 A2, para. [0001]).

Fig. 1 of EP 1 768 268 A2

Here is how the invention is defined by the limiting features of claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (feature labeling introduced by the Board)

Is it technical?

First of all, the Board in charge determined the distinguishing features of the closest prior art document D1 as follows:

3.2.4 The subject-matter of claim 1 therefore differs from the disclosure of D1 in features D1, I, J, J1 and J2.

Then, the Board outlined that features D1, J, J1 and J2 are rendered-obvious by D1. Specifically with respect to feature I, which reads “the addresses and the method of selecting the individual services of the operating system are published”, the Board explained that it would refer to a non-technical activity and thus could not contribute to inventive step:

3.2.6 Re feature I: the “publishing” of addresses and programs is a non-technical activity, depending on administrative considerations, which therefore does not contribute to inventive step (cf. T 641/00, headnote I). In any event, the publication of a list of “memory addresses” of operating-system routines stored in a non-volatile memory, e.g. a ROM, to be called from user programs was a technique notoriously known already in the 1980s (e.g. “KERNAL” calls in the 8-bit computer Commodore C64). Hence, the skilled person would have readily considered this technique when implementing the “operating functions of the Real-time Operation System 210” (see D1, paragraph [0035]).

Notably, the Appellant did not contest this assessment and just presented generic arguments why the subject-matter of claim 1 would comprise an inventive step. However, the Board did not follow these arguments.

Against this background, at the end of the hearing, the appeal was dismissed due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0999/16 (Wireless communication platform/IQRF) of February 4, 2022

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Translating a predicted amount of electrical energy into fuel savings: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to estimating the electrical energy production of a photovoltaic system of an aircraft. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the relevant features of claim 1 would only refer to a simulation method that does not produce a technical effect. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1035/18 (Estimating airborne photovoltaic energy production/BOEING) of November 2, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Simulation accuracy might play a role in the assessment of inventive step only if the simulation contributes to the technical character of the invention.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present application as follows:

1.1 The invention is about estimating the electrical energy production of a photovoltaic system of an aircraft in flight (paragraph [0002] of the published application).

1.2 Looking at Figures 1 and 2, the method starts by estimating a first amount of solar irradiance 106 generated by the Sun 108 and received at a plurality of geographical points 104 as a function of time (feature [a]). Based on this, a second amount of solar irradiance received by an aircraft 110 travelling along a flight path 112 is determined. The flight path 112 includes a subset of the geographical points 104 and has a starting and an ending time … . Based on the solar irradiance on the aircraft, the amount of electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic system 200 on the aircraft 110 is predicted … .

Finally, the predicted amount of electrical energy is translated into estimated fuel savings.

Fig. 1 of EP 2 899 685 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the ninth auxiliary request:

  • Claim 1 (Ninth auxiliary request)

Is it technical?

Since the ninth auxiliary request was considered to be the most concrete one, the Board based its assessment on this request.

During the first instance examination phase, it was found that the first three features of claim 1 would relate to a prediciation method that could be performed by purely mental or mathematical means:

2.3 The examining division held that steps [a] to [c] defined a prediction method at a high level of abstraction that could be performed by purely mental or mathematical means. This was in contrast to the case in T 1227/05 (Circuit Simulation/Infineon) where the deciding Board held that the simulation could not be performed purely by such means and provided for realistic prediction of the performance of a designed circuit.

Against this assessment, the Applicant/Appellant argued that a technical system is simulated by the prediction method. Hence, in view of T 1227/05 (Circuit Simulation/Infineon), the claimed method has to be considered technical. However, the Board in charge found that T 1227/05 is rendered moot in view of G1/19:

2.5 The Board considers that the question of whether or not the present case resembles that of T 1227/05 is moot in view of G 1/19, which supersedes T 1227/05. According to G 1/19, whether a simulation contributes to the technical character of the claimed subject-matter does not depend on the degree to which the simulation represents reality (point 111); nor does it depend on the technicality of the simulated system (point 120). What counts is whether the simulation contributes to the solution of a technical problem (point 120).

The Board then further found that the claimed simulation steps do not involve a technical character, since technicality in light of G 1/19 does not depend on the simulated system but on the further use of the data produced by the simulation:

2.6 It is common ground that steps [a] to [c] define a simulation method. The method produces calculated numerical data, i.e. a prediction of the amount of electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic system during multiple flight paths. The Board agrees with the examination division’s decision that these steps do not involve a technical effect.

2.7 Following the principles laid out in G 1/19, the Board considers that whether the simulation achieves a technical effect depends on the further use of these numerical data (G 1/19, point 124).

To counter this finding, the Appellant argued that the central point of the present case is whether the estimated fuel savings provide a technical effect:

2.7 … The appellant argued for such an effect on the basis of step [d], added during the appeal, which specifies a further use of the predicted amount of electrical energy, namely translating this amount into estimated fuel savings. The issue in the present case is, thus, whether the estimated fuel savings provide a technical effect.

However, the Board in charge was not convinced by this argument:

2.9 The Board is not convinced by this argument because estimating the fuel savings for a flight is a non-technical administrative activity.

Then, the Appellant presented to further arguments:

2.10 During the oral proceedings, the appellant argued that the estimated fuel savings implied a more precise estimation of the amount of fuel needed by the aircraft for a flight. This was a technical effect because refuelling the aircraft with the optimal amount of fuel would enable the aircraft to traverse the flight path more efficiently.

2.12 The appellant also argued during the oral proceedings that step [a] described an accurate model for predicting the solar irradiance at a plurality of geographical points. This, in turn, led to a more precise estimation of the fuel savings. According to point 111, second sentence, of G 1/19, the accuracy of a simulation might be taken into consideration in the assessment of inventive step.

However, also these arguments did not convince the Board:

2.11 The Board considers that although refuelling is a technical process, it is not a direct consequence of the estimated fuel savings but would only occur as a result of a human decision (see also G 1/19, point 123). Moreover, the estimated fuel savings can also be used for business decisions, such as whether the savings merit the production and installation of the photovoltaic system or whether they permit a reduction of the flight tickets’ prices. Hence, the estimations do not have an implied technical use that can be the basis for an implied technical effect (see also G 1/19, points 98, 128).

2.13 In the Board’s view, however, the simulation’s accuracy might play a role in the assessment of inventive step only if the simulation contributes to the technical character of the invention. In view of the above (points 2.8 to 2.11), the Board judges that the simulation does not contribute to the technical character of the invention. Hence, the simulation’s accuracy is irrelevant for the assessment of inventive step.

Against this background, the Board found that the features relating to the simulation are of non-technical nature and thus have to be ignored for the assessment of inventive step:

2.14 As features [a] to [d] do not contribute to the technical character of the invention, they can be legitimately incorporated into the technical problem solved, as constraints to be met (T 641/00). …

As a result, the appeal was dismissed due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1035/18 (Estimating airborne photovoltaic energy production/BOEING) of November 2, 2021

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Present, advertise and promote paint and other coating products: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to a self-service terminal usable in stores that sell paints of different colours. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 would only refer to the presentation of information. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2849/18 of April 8, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

Features relating to the presentation of information are non-technical and thus cannot contribute to inventive step.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present application as follows:

1.1 The invention concerns a self-service terminal in a store selling paints of different colours. At such a terminal the customer can initiate a session using a paint sample card from a paint card display. The paint card represents a specific paint/colour and provides the terminal with information in order to create a session. The session simulates painting a chosen environment (e.g. a dining room) with the chosen paint/colour.

1.2 The alleged aim of the invention is to present, advertise and promote paint and other coating products in a retail environment and to provide product information to consumers and others (see page 1, second paragraph, of the application). This is e.g. achieved in that the colour application program suggests an additional colour coordinating with the selected colour. The location of the paint card (corresponding to the additional colour) in a paint card display is illustrated (“pinpointed”) in an image of the paint card display array.

Fig. 7 of WO 2011/140134 A2

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request - numbering added by the Board)

Is it technical?

At first, the Board in charge stated that it agrees with the examining division’s assessment that D1 forms the closest prior art for the claimed subject-matter. Then, the Board summarized the disclosure of D1 as follows:

2.2.1 In D1 a coded sample colour paint card is described as a “fabric or paint chip” mentioned e.g. in paragraph [0128]. D1 further discloses a colour card reader, where the colour is input via the “paint chip” card and the corresponding colour code is retrieved via a colour database. D1 does not explicitly discloses that the paint chips are stored in a “card display” device, where the cards are exposed and made available to the customers. Such a display is shown in D7 (paint chip panels 27, 28, 31, paragraphs [0048], [0049]).

According to the Board, D1 would fail to teach the following two features of claim 1 of the main request:

2.3.2 D1 does not disclose

(a) a paint sample card display device for displaying an array of coded paint sample cards (parts of Features (B), (C), and (D)) and

(b) a pinpoint location in the image of a paint sample card bearing a selected color from the plurality of additional colors (Feature (H)).

As a next step, the Board determined the technical effect of both distinguishing features:

2.4.1 Feature (a) has the technical effect of storing and displaying the paint sample cards.

2.4.2 The effect of distinguishing Feature (b) is that the customer can easily and intuitively retrieve a paint sample card in the display panel by indication of the place of the card in a scheme representing the whole array of paint sample cards.

The Appellant argued that feature (b) provides a technical effect because the used display array would be a technical entity:

2.4.3 The Appellant has argued that Feature (b) had a technical effect, because the display array was a technical entity and retrieving a paint sample card was a technical process. … Its technical task was to enable the user to locate easily the paint sample card in the paint sample card display.

However, the Board did not follow this line of argumentation and found that the feature in questions only relates to non-technical displaying of information, which thus cannot contribute to inventive step:

2.4.4 The Board however is of the opinion that displaying the information, where the paint card is located, refers to presentation of information (see Article 52(2)(d) EPC) as brought forward by the Examining Division in the summons to oral proceedings and in the impugned decision. Non-technical features within the meaning of Article 52(2)(d) EPC, i.e. features related to presentation of information, are allowed in the context of other technical features, but cannot contribute to inventive step. …

Therefore, the Board formulated the problem to be solved as follows:

2.5 The problem therefore may be defined as providing an easily usable storage device for the paint cards and implementing an image of the paint sample card array pinpointing the location in the image of a paint sample card.

Then, the Board argued that finding a solution to this problem would have been obvious to the skilled person:

2.6.1 Providing a display array for paint cards as taught by D7 (Fig. 1) is the most obvious way to present paint sample cards in order to make the cards both easily accessibly and visible.

2.6.2 The solution to the second part of the problem directly results from the problem formulation itself. No technical difficulties would be encountered by the skilled person having skills in software development. Hence, the implementation of an image of the paint sample card array pinpointing the location in the image of a paint sample card does not require any inventive skills and would be obvious for the skilled person.

As a result, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2849/18 of April 8, 2022

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Finding an alternative to placing packages in a mail room if no lockers were available: non-technical

This case may be interesting for everyone who is active in the area of logistics since the application underlying the present decision relates to delivering of parcels to consignees when an initial delivery attempt is unsuccessful. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 allegedly solves the non-technical problem of finding an alternative to placing packages in a mail room if no lockers were available. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1909/19 (Confirming identity at locker bank/UPC) of March 10, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Features relating to mere business-related aspects cannot contribute to inventive step since they lack technicality.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present application as follows:

1. The invention concerns delivery of parcels to consignees when an initial delivery attempt is unsuccessful (see page 1, first text paragraph of the international publication).

1.1 The application discloses a system for facilitating delivery of parcels via a carrier (e.g. logistics company, courier, authorised agent) to alternate delivery locations in response to an unsuccessful delivery attempt to a primary delivery address (e.g. the intended parcel recipient’s residence). An alternate delivery location may be a locker bank comprising a plurality of secure lockers at any suitable location, such as at a stand-alone facility or another facility such as, for example, a retail store, a gas station or a pharmacy (page 2, last full paragraph, to page 3, second line).

1.3 In particular embodiments, as described on page 3, first full paragraph, when the driver representing a carrier arrives at a locker bank to deliver a parcel to the locker bank: (1) the driver indicates, via a system directly accessed at the locker location and/or via a portable computing device, that the parcel is to be delivered; (2) an appropriate locker is selected by the system or the driver, for instance based on a size of the parcel, time of day, type of package or special handling instructions for the parcel; (3) the driver places the parcel in the chosen locker; (4) the computer system associated with the locker bank sends an electronic notification to the parcel’s shipper, consignee, carrier and/or third party that the parcel is in the locker bank; and (5) the locker bank holds the parcel until it is retrieved from the locker, or until a predetermined amount of time passes.

Fig. 3 of WO 2015/057734 A2

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request - numbering added by the Board)

Is it technical?

As a first step, the Board in charge determined the distinguishing features of claim 1 over the closest prior art document D1:

7. It follows from the above that the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the method of document D1 in that it includes features (b), (i.1) to (i.3) and the following feature:

(a”) at the logistics server, receiving from a mobile computing device a first indication that delivery of the one or more parcels is not possible at a primary delivery location.

Next, the Appellant argued the technical effect, specifically with respect to distinguishing feature (b) as follows:

8. The appellant argued that features (a), (b) and (c) had the technical effect of providing a method for delivery of a package to a recipient for automatic retrieval

From this, the Appellant formulated the technical problem:

8. … and solved the technical problem of finding an alternative to placing the packages in a mail room if no lockers were available.

However, the Board in charge did not agree and found that the distinguishing features would only concern non-technical requirements in terms of business considerations:

8. …

The board is however of the opinion that distinguishing features (a”) and (b) concern the non-technical requirement of giving preference to delivery of the one or more parcels to a primary delivery location before delivering to one of the locker banks and of selecting a suitable locker bank location based at least in part on the primary delivery location. The board notes that the choice of a delivery location can be based on non-technical business considerations and constraints or preferences of the recipient (such as a preference for a specific location for picking up the packet, e.g. a locker near the recipient’s residence or the workplace).

To convince the Board, the Appellant also argued a technical effect regarding the further distinguishing features (i), (i.1) to (i3):

9. The appellant argued that features (i), (i.1), (i.2), and (i.3) provided the technical effect of enabling a secure delivery of packages and solved the objective technical problem of providing a secure delivery at an alternative location. …

Notably, the Board left it open whether confirming the identity as defined by feature (i) is technical. However, such an implementation would have been obvious to the skilled person:

9.1 It is questionable whether the concept of confirming the identity of the individual on the basis of the individual’s location is technical. Its implementation using a computing device in the ways described in the application would have been obvious for the skilled person at the priority date of the present application, as the use of mobile devices with advanced location technology had already become ubiquitous, and location-based services were widely used.

As a result, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1909/19 (Confirming identity at locker bank/UPC) of March 10, 2022

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Displaying a medical workflow: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to displaying a medical workflow. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the displaying of information in terms of a menu. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1743/19 (Possible next actions/CAREFUSION303) of March 4, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

The mere presentation of information cannot contribute to the technical character of an invention.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns displaying changes in workflows performed by health care workers, like nurses etc. Since the order of tasks in a workflow may change, the present application suggests using predictions to be able to display the correct order of tasks within a workflow (cf. paras. [002] and [002] of the application).

Fig. 1 of WO 2011/087710 A2

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

Both the Board in charge and the Appellant considered that the closest prior art document D2 fails to teach the characterizing portion of claim 1:

1.1 The appellant considers all the features in the characterising part of claim 1 of the main request to be distinguishing features over D2, which reads as follows:

“predicting comprises using information related to past actions by the healthcare worker for predicting the healthcare worker’s workflow, and associating probabilities with actions possible by the healthcare worker; and

prioritizing display of possible next actions in the menu using the probability values associated with said actions”

1.2 Whereas D2 predicts the next possible actions in a healthcare worker’s workflow based on known ordered activities or tasks (see D2, [0081] and [0082]), the claimed method predicts the next possible actions using the healthcare worker’s past actions, which the appellant emphasises in its submissions are “medical” past actions, and displays these actions in a menu prioritised according to their associated probabilities.

According to the Appellant, the distinguishing features would reduce errors and improve efficiency on the part of healthcare workers during the time in which healthcare workers became accustomed to upgrades or changes to existing healthcare configurations. Moreover, flexibility in conducting workflows would be improved:

1.3.1 The appellant argued that errors were reduced and efficiency increased on the part of healthcare workers during the time in which healthcare workers became accustomed to upgrades or changes to existing healthcare configurations. …

1.3.2 Referring to paragraph [0022] of the description, the appellant argued that the need for a healthcare worker to follow only a single specific sequence of actions was eliminated. It reiterated at the oral proceedings that the distinguishing features gave the healthcare worker more flexibility. …

However, the Board found that the distinguishing features would only relate to the presentation of information. To counter this, the Appellant argued that displaying information may contribute to the technical character under exceptional circumstances as follows:

1.3.5 In its letter of reply to the board’s preliminary opinion, the appellant argued that the menu according to claim 1 placed the user in a favourable position to carry out the technical task of selecting a next option from the menu guiding the user through a workflow and submitted that in previous decisions of the boards of appeal, a GUI placing the user in a favourable position to carry out a technical task had been regarded as technical. It is evident that the appellant was referring to the established test that a presentation of information might exceptionally contribute to the technical character of an invention if it credibly assists the user in performing a technical task by means of a continued and guided human-machine interaction process (see e.g. T 1091/17, point 1.7 of the Reasons). …

The Board did not follow this argument since selecting something from a menu would be a non-technical task:

1.3.5 … Nevertheless, the case at hand fails this test at the very outset since selecting from a menu is not a technical task, contrary to the appellant’s argument.

Thus, the Board in charge concluded that the distinguishing features of claim 1 are of non-technical nature:

1.4 Since the distinguishing features of claim 1 do not have any technical effect, they cannot solve any objective technical problem. Therefore, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request does not involve any inventive step (Article 56 EPC).

As a result, since non-technical features have to be ignored for assessing non-obviousness, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1743/19 (Possible next actions/CAREFUSION303) of March 4, 2022

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Managing the funding of catastrophe relief efforts: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to managing the funding of catastrophe relief efforts. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent that mainly focuses on a payment method. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0550/14 (Catastrophe relief/SWISS RE) of September 14, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Business requirements given to the skilled person to implement are non-technical features.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention as follows:

1.1 The invention is about managing the funding of catastrophe relief efforts caused by natural or man-made disasters, such as earthquakes, see page 1, first paragraph of the originally filed application. Conventionally, as can been from Fig. 2, charitable organisations 3 provide relief S9 in the event of a disaster from donations S1 from donors 2. Insurance companies might offer catastrophe insurance policies, but these may be too expensive or even unavailable for developing countries, so that the available relief may be insufficient.

1.2 The objective of the invention is to make sure that adequate funding is in place before the catastrophic event actually occurs and to pay out when it does.

1.3 The invention achieves this by providing a “special purpose entity” (“special purpose vehicle” in the claims) 1′ which offers a financial product S3 (e.g. a security, or another financial instrument) in return for a premium S2 from the charitable organisation (or donor directly), see page 2, last paragraph, to page 3, first paragraph.

1.4 Investors 4 back S4 the product and receive in return for their investment a payment of the premium S2 which is issued as a coupon S10 from the special purpose entity. If a catastrophic event occurs within a defined time period, the capital is paid S8 to the charitable organisation, otherwise the capital is paid back S11 to the investors who keep the premium for their efforts.

1.5 The “special purpose entity” collects information S6 about catastrophic events from an online provider 5, see page 7, lines 8 to 16. This information is provided in the form of a “parametric index” indicating the severity of catastrophic events, which serves as a triggering condition for whether and how much payout shall be made to the charitable organisation, see page 10, third paragraph. The “parametric index” is linked to geographical areas, the type of catastrophe and the severity of the catastrophic event (Table 1).

Fig. 2 of WO 2009/100546 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

According to the assessment of the Board in charge, the closest prior art for the claimed subject-matter is a common computer network and that claim 1 differs from such a network by all features relating to the claimed payout scheme:

2.7 The Board agrees with the division that a valid starting point is a networked computer system, comprising a control module and several functional modules. Such a “networked” system can be interconnected with other networked computers via a telecommunications network and not just be a stand-alone system, as argued by the appellant.

2.8 The invention therefore differs, as is usually the case starting from such prior art, by all the features of the relief payout scheme.

Then, the Board assessed whether the first instance examining division was correct in considering all the distinguishing features non-technical. As a result, the Board held the the examining division’s assessment was correct:

2.10 The Board agrees with the division that the features define a method for managing funding of catastrophe relief efforts. They represent the different parties involved, which are the donor, the charitable organisation, the investor and the information provider, as well as the monetary and information flow between them and the role each one plays. They are therefore part of the business requirements given to the skilled person to implement.

Contrary to the opinion of the Appellant, the Board also considered the claimed parametric trigger as non-technical:

2.11 … For instance, a catastrophe of a hurricane in the Caribbean, as shown in Table 1 on page 7, has the parametric trigger of wind speed, size of storm and location. In the Board’s view, determining this parametric information, the triggering criteria and the trigger level does not require any technical considerations. Furthermore, the business person would be aware that the relevant information would be available from providers for weather data and catastrophe information.

2.12 2.12 The Board therefore sees no need for the business person to have technical knowledge about networked computer systems in order to propose the business method of the invention. …

Finally, the Board held that implementing a business scheme as claimed would not pose any difficulties to the skilled person:

2.13 Finally, the Board cannot see any difficulties for the person skilled in the art of data processing to implement the business concept of the present invention on the networked computer system.

The Appellant did not agree and requested remitting the case back to the first instance to further discuss technicality of, for example, the parametric trigger as mentioned above:

3.1 … Moreover, if there were no arguments why certain features were deemed to be part of the business model, the right to be heard was not respected. In the present case, a more detailed discussion should have taken place about the feature “parametric trigger”, …

However, the Board held that in the present case it is clear that the features in questions are non-technical. Moreover, the Board considered that these features have already been sufficiently discussed in the first instance proceedings:

3.2 The Board agrees that in this field there is a danger of simply asserting that certain features are non-technical with no basis. Indeed, the Board has seen decisions where the reasoning has not been fully convincing. But this is not one of them. As mentioned above, the examining division addressed the argument about the parametric trigger in the decision at points 2.3 and 2.3.1. Furthermore, the division admirably minuted the discussion of this point at page 2, third last paragraph. This shows why it is always advisable to minute clearly the arguments exchanged about contentious points.

As a result, since non-technical features have to be ignored for assessing non-obviousness, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0550/14 (Catastrophe relief/SWISS RE) of September 14, 2021

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