This decision concerns a system for distributing information based on a user’s state. However, the Board did not grant a patent, because the application allegedly relates to a mere technical implementation of a non-technical scheme for delivering information to users. 

Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0570/20 (Information distribution system/DENTSU) of May 31, 2023, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

Key takeaways

Whether or not parameters are technical has to be determined in the context of the application.

Decisions which are based on subjective criteria such as user preferences do not provide a technical effect.

The invention

The invention concerns a system for selecting information, for example advertisements, to be provided to the users of mobile terminals. If the selection is only based on the users’ position, different users in the same area will generally receive the same information (description, paragraphs [0002] to [0005]). The goal of the invention is to better tailor the information provided to the users’ needs. To achieve this, a server stores users’ information access requests associated with their position and the time at which the request was received. The server makes use of this information, called “user history information”, to determine a “state of the user” for a given combination of time and location depending, for example, on whether a user tends to prefer work-related information over amusement-related information. The server also determines an action pattern for the users based on their state, position and location. Finally, the server selects the information to be provided based on the users’ present state and action pattern (paragraphs [0006] and [0007]).

Fig. 1 of EP 2846301 A1

  • Claim 1 of the Main Request

Is it patentable?

In its reasoning the Board stated that claim 1 essentially defines a computer server providing information to a user terminal, based on the received terminal location and on user history information.

Importantly, in view of the Board, “the content of the information provided is cognitive data and does not have a technical significance. It may consist, for example, of advertisements (see description, paragraph [0017])“. As a result, the Board concluded (emphasis added):

The selection of the information is based on heuristic, subjective criteria, the formulation of which does not require any technical knowledge or skills. In particular, the “state of the user” represents a tendency of the user to prefer some types of information, for a given time and place, and is determined through a statistical analysis of the cognitive content of the user’s past information access requests. The “pattern of action” represents an assessment of users’ current activities, based on their state.

The overall effect is to provide users with non-technical information matching their estimated interests and course of action. In the Board’s view, this is not a technical purpose and does not credibly solve any technical problem.

The appellant argued that forming combinations of locations and time was per se technical and that, following decision T 115/85, associating these combinations with the states of the user made a technical contribution.

Furthermore, the appellant stated that a technical contribution derived from the fact:

That the server was able to determine the state of the users based on time and location information, thereby avoiding them having to manually input their state into the terminal device. Also the invention, when compared with D1, enabled “to more accurately send messages to the user and to implement this solution in such a way that is convenient for the user”.

However, the Board did not follow these arguments for the following reasons (emphasis added):

A combination of locations and times may have a purely administrative relevance, like for example in the case of a work schedule.

In the context of the invention, time and location are associated in the state database with the user state, which indicates whether a user has shown a tendency to select work-related over leisure-related information, or vice versa. This information does not concern “conditions prevailing in an apparatus or system”, as in the case at issue in T 115/85. It merely reflects the user’s past choices for a given time and place and provides, at most, a heuristic estimate of the user’s preferences, which does not have a technical significance.

Any increase in the “accuracy” and “convenience” of the information depends on the user’s subjective preferences, and cannot be considered a credible and objective effect of the claimed subject matter. As discussed above, determining the “state of the user” in the manner set out in claim 1 represents a heuristic, non-technical manner of estimating said preferences. Hence, in the Board’s view, the invention does not solve the technical problem of reducing or avoiding user interaction; rather, it circumvents the problem by replacing the user input with a non-technical algorithm.

As a result, the Board agreed with the contested decision that a networked computer is the only technical feature of claim 1 and a suitable starting point for assessing inventive step. Said computer allegedly implements, in a straightforward manner, a non-technical scheme for delivering information to users.

In the absence of any technical effect going beyond the mere automation of the scheme, the Board concluded that claim 1 lacks inventive step (Article 56 EPC).

More information

You can read the full decision here: T 0570/20 (Information distribution system/DENTSU) of May 31, 2023, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

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