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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