This decision concerns a method for scheduling online sessions. However, the Board did not grant a patent, because the application allegedly merely provides a solution to a non-technical problem, namely scheduling of future online sessions based on the availability of the users.
Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1685/19 (Tracking, Correlating and Processing Multi-User Online Sessions/SONY) of July 18, 2023, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03.
The application concerns a method for scheduling online sessions. For this purpose, user profiles are created using the monitored online behaviour of potential participants. When a particular user requests an online session, the user profiles are used to determine which other users could be interested in joining and are likely to be available for this online session. These are then invited and, after they have replied, the online session is entered into their calendars.
Fig. 1 of EP2191383 A1
Claim 1 of the Main Request
a) A method for scheduling an online session in a system which maintains profile data associated with users, the profile data defining
b) user interests and
c) times that the user is likely to be available, the method comprising:
d) monitoring online behaviors of the potential users; and
e1) developing the profile data of the potential users to detect
e2) user interests
e3) and times that the user is likely to be available
e4) based upon the online behaviors of the potential users;
f) determining desired time slots for an online session;
g1) determining potential users to participate in the online session by searching profile data associated with a requesting user and other users to determine potential users as those users
g2) who share common interests with the requesting user
g3) and whose profile indicates that they are likely to be available at a desired time slot;
h) sending invitations to the potential users;
i) receiving responses to the invitations thereby identifying participants for the online session; and
j) entering the online session into the calendars of the participants of the online session.
Is it patentable?
It was common ground that claim 1 includes the following distinguishing features compared to the closest prior art document (D4), which concerns a method for setting up online game sessions where potential participants are invited based upon their user profiles which are created by tracking the users’ activities (see e.g. paragraphs , ,  and )):
- properties that the user is likely to share with other users are the times that the user is likely to be available;
- desired time slots for an online session are determined;
- the profile furthermore indicates that the users are likely to be available at the desired time slot;
- the online session is entered into the calendars of the participants of the online session.
Regarding the technical effect of said features as well as the technical problem to be solved, the Appellant argued:
In D4 several technical problems are present such as handling large numbers of potential players who might join an online session, transmission of invitations to candidate session joiners who might be uninterested or unavailable and that only players currently playing were eligible to be invited to join.
The application solved these problems by potentially contacting a lower number of potential users in line with their predicted individual schedules. Individual users would thus not receive irrelevant or unwanted requests incompatible with their availability, which could cut down on network traffic. Reducing the number of invitations a user will receive while still allowing them to select the activities they are predicted to enjoy most was a clear technical benefit over the prior art. The burden upon the system handling the invitations would be reduced, offering a clear technical advantage.
Furthermore, D4 relates to the creation of an immediate online session and does contain no suggestion that the organized game session might take place in the future rather than in the present. Thus, there was no planning of a specific time for the event.
Regarding “organizing events in the future, entry into calendar” (as defined by features f) and j)) the Board found that:
Generally, the time at which an event is to be organised, e.g. in a week’s time instead of tomorrow, or more generally in the future instead of in the present, depends on organisational circumstances. Such organisational circumstances may include, for instance, considerations as to the availability of resources (e.g. is the car required to go to the beach available right now or only tomorrow) or legal restrictions (an event for children, for example, may have end before 9 p.m. depending on the age of the participants).
In any case, organisational circumstances like that are non-technical requirements imposed on the organizer (and thus, in an environment where computers are used, on the skilled person) which per se do not achieve any technical effect.
Therefore, the Board concluded that scheduling future events rather than immediate events does not provide a technical effect.
With respect to “reducing the number of invitations, network traffic and burden on the system managing the invitations” (as specified by features c), e3) and g3)) the Board found that:
Sending invitations only to persons who are likely to be available and not to persons who are unlikely to be available (and thereby, in the present case and as mentioned by the appellant, reducing the number of candidate session joiners/potential players) is per se not a technical concept, but rather an organisational or administrative one.
In addition, this concept has been generally known for a long time. For instance, it is common sense not to ask football players to go to the cinema on a day on which they have training, because it is unlikely that they are available.
In that manner, the number of invitations sent and received is reduced, and in a computerized system, this reduces network traffic and the burden of the system handling the sending of invitations, as submitted by the appellant. However, this effect would be achieved by a modification of the underlying organisational or administrative concept (which in addition was generally known) as set out above, thereby circumventing a technical problem rather than solving it by technical means.
Therefore, the Board concluded that reducing the number of invitations based on availability of the users does not provide a technical effect.
Based on these findings, the Board formulated the objective technical problem as “how to implement the non-technical requirements of additionally taking into account the likely availability of the potential users at a desired time in the future”.
Finally, the Board stated that the skilled person starting from D4 in search for a solution to this non-technical problem, would have had no difficulties to solve the objective technical problem of implementing the non-technical requirements of additionally taking into account the likely availability of the potential users at a desired time in the future in the system of D4.
Therefore, the Board concluded that claim 1 lacks inventive step with respect to document D4 (Article 56 EPC).
You can read the full decision here: T 1685/19 (Tracking, Correlating and Processing Multi-User Online Sessions/SONY) of July 18, 2023, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03.