This decision concerns a ledger protocol to incentivise commerce. However, since the distinguishing features were considered non-technical, the EPO refused to grant a patent. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1587/20 (Ledger protocol to incentivise commerce/LOYYAL HOLDINGS) of December 6, 2023 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

Key takeaways

Receiving information on business activities from a users’ computer and adding this information to a distributed ledger is non-technical.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the subject-matter of the application underlying the present decision as follows:

2.1 The invention concerns a system for incentivising a user both to behave in a desired way and to purchase a particular product (see paragraphs [15], [22] and [29] of the published application).

2.2 The idea of the invention is to give users participating in an incentive program ([22], last sentence), rewards (“incentive units of value” in the claim), such as gift cards or coupons ([24]), to incentivise behaviour desired by the provider of the program. While not claimed, the behaviours might range from promoting some service on social media to attending a gym ([22] and [29]). The system achieves this by collecting data on the users’ behaviour (“incentive event data”) from either their computers or a POS or an ATM terminal ([35]). Then it records the reward on a distributed ledger and provides it to the users’ computers ([36]).

2.3 In a separate embodiment, see paragraph [55], lines 4 and 5, the invention associates a product with a digital wallet containing tokens and private keys, see [57]. The application explains that the tokens represent exchangeable units of value, such as cryptocurrency units, gift cards and coupons, see [56]. The digital wallet can receive tokens from a user which is not in possession of the product (“a first party that is not in possession of the product”) to incentivise a desired behaviour.

While not claimed, but disclosed in the application, the digital wallet is an incentive to purchase the product and becomes the property of its buyer. The subsequent token transfers are conducted by the product manufacturer to incentivise the product’s resale for example, see [57] and [62], last sentence.

Fig. 5 of WO 2016/007904 A1

  • Claim 1 (Sole Request)

Is it technical?

Before further deliberation, the Board noted several clarity objections present in claim 1. Notwithstanding, D1 was considered the closest prior art and the Board found that the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from D1 (distinguishing features) in that:

A) In that the tokens are added to the wallet in order to incentivise a desired behaviour.

B) By a server configured to provide access to incentive data issued or defined by the open assets protocol employed.

C) By receiving incentive event data from one or more of point of sale devices, credit/debit card machines and at least one incentive protocol network participant compute device.

D) In that the distributed ledger stores records based on the incentive event data and at least one incentive protocol system rule.

E) In that the amount of tokens transferred between users is based on the generated incentive unit transaction record

The Board provided following analysis with regards to the distinguishing features:

3.6 Feature A merely defines a user’s business motivation and makes no technical contribution. Feature B is, at the broad level claimed, an obvious implementation of the business requirement that some unspecified incentive data should be made available to users.

3.7 Features D and E correspond to distinguishing features (i) to (iv) according to point 13.4 of the decision. At point 13.8 of the decision, the examining division held that those features defined a business scheme and the Board agrees. The scheme requires that participating users’ behaviour is to be monitored, documented in the public ledger and used as basis for token transfers.

With regards to the distinguishing features, the Appellant argued as follows:

3.8 […] the distinguishing features provided the technical effect of enabling a party, who no longer had physical access to the product, to obtain historical and logistical information about it. For example, a product’s manufacturer could see that tokens were transferred in connection with the sale of his product. This effect was “over and above the effects and advantages inherent in the excluded subject-matter”, as discussed in decision T 336/07, and therefore gave rise to a technical problem and counted towards an inventive step (grounds of appeal, page 4, page 7, penultimate paragraph and page 8).

However, the Board did not follow the Appellants argumentation and provided following reasoning:

[…], as was essentially stated at point 13.12.3 of the decision, the advanced effect is not derivable from the claim which does not mention storing any product-related historical data, let alone storing data concerning the product associated with the digital wallet (see point 2.3 above). Neither does the claim define that information on transferred tokens is stored anywhere in the system.

3.9 The claimed implementation of the above business scheme (feature C) is limited to receiving the information on business activities from the users’ computers and to adding this information to the distributed ledger. The Board agrees with the examining division (decision, point 13.11) that these features would have been obvious, once, using the COMVIK approach (see decision T 641/00 – Two identities/COMVIK), the business scheme has been provided to the skilled person to implement for non-technical reasons.

As a result, the Board came to the conclusion that claim 1 lacks an inventive step and dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1587/20 (Ledger protocol to incentivise commerce/LOYYAL HOLDINGS) of December 6, 2023.

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