The application underlying this decision relates to the area of digital security. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent that deals with an electronic safe. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1607/18 of December 21, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

Technical features that do not contribute to the technical character of an invention can be included into the formulation of the technical problem.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention as follows:

1.1 The present application is about an electronic safe for use in retail environments, where the safe counts the money being deposited and electronically transmits a report containing the amount of money counted to a central processing location.

1.2 Upon receipt of this report, the retailer can be credited the deposited money amount even before it is picked up by an armored car service and deposited at a bank or similar institution. Retailers can therefore benefit from cash collections almost immediately.

Fig. 2 of WO 2009/018095 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

During the appeal proceedings, the Board in charge arrived at the conclusion that claim 1 only comprises one distinguishing feature over the closest prior art document D1:

2.3.2 D1 therefore does not explicitly disclose that the credit is adjusted based on differences, if any, between the verified amount and the calculated total amount of cash deposited into the safe as identified in the data file (second part of feature (G)).

Based on the distinguishing feature, the Appellant argued the technical effect and the problem to be solved as follows:

2.4.1 The Appellant has argued that the effect of the distinguishing features was that only small data files comprising the aggregated sum (in D1 e.g. the sum of the deposit of “3/6” and the first deposit of “3/7”) had to be transmitted thus reducing the load on the communication network.

2.4.2 The problem to be solved was the reduction of the amount of data sent between the safe and the central units. The invention generally simplified data handling and thereby error handling. The invention also required less bandwidth. The invention therefore achieved a technical effect by reducing the load on the network.

However, the Board in charge did bot follow the Appellant’s line of argumentation and considered the distinguishing feature as only having a business-related aim:

2.4.3 The Board however came to the conclusion that the effect of reducing the network load is not an effect of the difference between D1 and claim 1 (i.e. the second part of feature (G)). Indeed, feature (G) relates to a method of doing business, i.e. adjusting any difference between an accounted total amount and the amount of cash picked up by an armored car. This “adjusting” according to feature (G) is merely a non-technical business aim and does not achieve any technical effect or solve a technical problem by technical features. When regarded on its own, feature (G) would constitute subject-matter excluded from patentability under Article 52(2) and (3) EPC.

Hence, the Board formulated the technical problem as follows:

2.4.5 The problem to be solved can therefore be formulated as adjusting in the system of D1 the step of “reconciliation” (claim 4 of D1) by “adjusting the credit previously provided based on differences, if any, between the verified amount and the calculated total amount of cash deposited into the safe as identified in the data file” (cf. task of the agent, [0051], [0053], feature (G)).

Solving this problem would be obvious to the skilled person:

2.5.1 The solution to this problem results in a straightforward manner from the problem to be solved. It is obvious that the agent in D1 would adjust the credit, if the amount of cash arriving in the bank/ armored car service facility differs from the amount in the data file, e.g. if the retailer or anyone else has taken out cash from the electronic safe without any record.

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

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1607/18 of December 21, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03

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