This decision concerns a European patent application relating to a method for determining comparability of service offers or products, which was considered non-technical by the EPO’s Board of Appeal in charge. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2379/16 () of 11.9.2020 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

The closest prior art can be a generally known network-based computer system, so that there is no need to refer to a document to assess inventive step.

The invention

A dynamic online reservation system for events is proposed in the application underlying the present decision, in which customers can submit quality assessments for seating and standing space online. These ratings are then available to all customers when choosing a seat during the online reservation (see paragraphs [0004] to [0006] of the published application).

Fig. 1 of EP2079045

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

In the first instance, the application was refused due to lack of inventive step by the examining division.

At the appeal stage, the Board confirmed the decision of the examining division with the following reasoning:

No closest prior art was cited in the examination procedure. The board shares the examining division’s view that the closest prior art is a generally known network-based computer system, so that there is no need to refer to a document to assess inventive step.

Then, the Board categorised the features of claim 1 into technical features and non-technical features, as required by the COMVIK approach (see T 0641/00).

3.2.1 The Board identifies the following known technical features of a network-based computer system:

(B) data processing system (32) with at least one computer unit (32), a memory unit (30), an input / output unit (36) and a communication network (34),

(D) where by means of the input / output unit (36} [deleted: evaluations of quality] features [deleted: n according to a specified evaluation standard of the place (24) and / or place area (26, 28) and related to place or place area and related to quality characteristics] are saved,

(E) [deleted: where] the [deleted: evaluations] can be processed by means of an algorithm and a result can be stored and accessed in a user-specific manner using the input / output unit (36) [deleted: based on a selected quality feature].

3.2.2 The following, mainly “non-technical” features can be identified which can easily be implemented in such a computer system, but which relate to a business method:

(A ‘) Process for providing ratings for personal spaces (24) and / or space areas (26, 28),

(C ‘) where the place (24) and / or place area (26, 28) is assigned an individualizing identification, (D’) where [deleted: by means of the input / output unit (36}] evaluations of quality features according to a specified evaluation standard of the space (24) and / or space area (26, 28) are released and stored in relation to the space or space area and in relation to quality features,

(E ‘) whereby the evaluations [deleted: by means of an algorithm] can be processed and a result [deleted: can be saved and called up user-specifically by means of the input] [deleted: /] [deleted: output unit (36)] based on a selected quality feature.

3.2.3 These procedural steps could also be carried out in the case of over-the-counter sales through the experience and customer feedback of the seller, with the storage and the algorithm being carried out purely mentally. As a rule, such consultations take place at a counter sale. The features (A ‘) and (C’) – (E ‘) are not generally known for a web-based computer system.

Further, in line with the COMVIK approach (see T 0641/00), the non-technical features (A ‘) and (C’) – (E ‘) can be included in the formulation of the technical problem.

The Board agreed with the examining division that the task to be solved is to enable an accurate and detailed quality assessment of seat categories. Therefore, the objective technical problem reads as follows:

Computer-implemented realization of a dynamic, quality-optimized seat selection through a web-based computer-implemented method for the provision of ratings for personal seats and / or seat areas,

where the space and / or space area is assigned an individualizing identification, whereby evaluations of quality features according to a defined evaluation standard of the space and / or space area are issued and stored in relation to space or space area and in relation to quality features, whereby the assessments can be processed by means of an algorithm and a result is obtained can be called up on a user-specific basis for a selected quality feature.

However, the Board denied an inventive step of claim 1:

3.5.3 The Board … is also of the opinion that no unexpected technical solution is proposed for either the technical or the non-technical subtask. In addition, there is no apparent technical contribution that would appear unexpected or surprising to the person skilled in the art (T258/03, T172/03 and T641/00).

3.5.4 The inventive step can only be based on the particular type of implementation of a non-technical subject (see T336 / 07, catchword 1 and 2). When implementing the solution to the above task, beyond a pure computer implementation, no solution is offered that has an additional technical effect or special technical advantages. Such effects could be achieved by adapting the hardware, the input / output devices or special database structures and their linking. Even in electronic payment systems that serve a purely commercial purpose, there is patentable material for such technical features that go beyond a pure computer implementation.

As a result, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2379/16 () of 11.9.2020.

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