The application underlying this decision relates to automated stock trading, which was refused by the EPO since the independent claims mainly address the implementation of a non-technical financial/business scheme. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1395/20 (Personal indicator/LANNG) of November 7, 2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Claims which are not limited to but cover one obvious implementation are deemed to be obvious as a whole.

The invention

The application relates, in general, to automated stock trading. The invention in claim 16 of the main request defines a computer implemented method for defining and “back testing” a “personal indicator” (see Figure below) based on user-selectable timeframes and criteria.

The “personal indicator” is described as an automated trading strategy which decides when to buy or sell a stock (cf. application as filed, page 1, lines 25-28). It is defined based on a combination of criteria, for example, relating to technical indicators. Back testing such a personal indicator means testing the trading strategy on historical data. The user may define the personal indicator by selecting a “timeframe” from a set of timeframes in a multidimensional “criteria grid”. The timeframes are associated with criteria so that, by selecting a timeframe, the user also selects a criteria at the same time. However, it is not completely clear from the claim and the description how this works.

As shown in Fig. 14 (see below), a “criteria grid” may be implemented as a two-dimensional array of boxes that the user can select. It appears that, by selecting a row, the user selects a criteria (e.g., Close < MOV0) corresponding to the row, and by selecting a box in that row, the user selects a timeframe (M, 1, 2, 3) for that criteria. However, this is not reflected in the claim.

The examining division found that the claimed invention was an obvious implementation of a financial scheme on a notoriously known computer system. They considered the personal indicator to be a financial object for decision support during trading and test sessions, and the back testing to be a financial operation. No technical effect could be derived from this financial scheme. The computer implementation, in particular the provision of a user interface for data selection, would have been obvious to the skilled person at the level of generality of claim 16.

Fig. 14 of WO 2009/000264 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 16 of the main request:

  • Claim 16 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

In the grounds of appeal, the Appellant argued:

Starting from EP1952330A1 as the closest prior art, that the distinguishing feature of the claimed invention is the use of a criteria grid for adding and removing criteria, and that this is technical as it assists the user in performing a technical task similar to the one in T 643/00 (Searching image data/CANON). By means of the “one click” solution, the user may efficiently add criteria.

Furthermore, the Appellant argued:

The invention is a “general purpose solution” which is not limited to financial criteria. It could be used for adding any type of criteria to a personal indicator. Thus, the objective technical problem solved by the invention is “how to efficiently develop and test a personal indicator.

However, the Board did not follow this argumentation and instead stated:

Even if claim 16 is not limited to back testing a trading strategy, it covers this subject-matter. It is enough that the claim covers something that would have been obvious to the skilled person for it to lack an inventive step (Article 56 EPC). Furthermore, the application does not disclose any examples of a personal indicator other than a strategy for buying or selling financial instruments.

Moreover, the Board is not convinced that the “criteria grid” assists the user in performing a technical task, simply because there is no technical task involved. The case T 643/00 concerned a particular arrangement of images of different resolution on the screen, enabling the user to efficiently search for images. In the Board’s view, neither the facts nor the principles in T 643/00 are relevant to the present case.

Thus, the Board does not see that the criteria grid in claim 16 has a technical effect beyond that of allowing the user to select a criteria and time frames for the personal indicator. This would however have been normal user interface design.

As a result, the Board came to the conclusion that claim 16 lacks an inventive step and dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1395/20 (Personal indicator/LANNG)of November 7, 2023.

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