This decision concerns an application that relates to the use of location-based services for assigning tasks to users. 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 0926/20 (Mobile location-based task assignment/AR CHECK) of March 21, 2023 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

Key takeaways

Assigning tasks sequentially based on users’ acceptance is inherently non-technical.

The invention

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

The invention concerns the use of location-based services for assigning tasks to users, such as cleaning workers.

Conventional location-based services do not provide a dynamic presentation of data based on a user’s location, date/time and input – see third-to-last paragraph on page 1 of the published application.

According to the invention, when a user is present at a building or any other specific location, he receives cleaning tasks/instructions for that particular location (“location profile”), based on the current date, time, and his availability (“user profile”). In other words, the location-based service utilises both the user and location profile to determine which task should be assigned to the user.

The user can either accept or decline the assigned task, thereby updating the location profile, and allowing the remaining tasks to be assigned to other cleaning workers – see last three paragraphs on page 6 of the application.

Fig. 1 of EP 3 161 734 A1

  • Claim 1

Is it technical?

It is common ground that the invention in claim 1 is a “mixed-type invention” comprising both technical and non-technical features.

The Board essentially agrees that following features of claim 1 can be categorized as technical:

– a “server operably connectable to at least one mobile device and at least one further device” (step a));

– a “mobile device comprising a location determining unit for determining a current location of the mobile device” (step c));

– the mobile device is able to communicate with the server and comprises input means (as in step g)) and output means, i.e. a display, audio and haptic output (as in step f)).

However, the Board believes that

[…] the features distinguishing claim 1 from this closest prior art pertain to non-technical, administrative aspects of the location-based service, namely those relating to the assignment of tasks to users.

The Appellant brought forward the following arguments:

Argument 1:

[…] the use of “time” in the location-based service is a crucial technical parameter, as it linked the user and location profiles.

Argument 2:

[…] claim 1 is not simply a digital version of a traditional paper-based task assignment process.

Argument 3:

[…] one inventive aspect was that the location-based service depended on the actions of other users, specifically, whether or not they accepted a given task.

The Board’s responses to the Appellants arguments were as follows:

Response Argument 1:

[…] the term “time” as used in the claim, refers to its ordinary meaning of organising tasks based on the availability of users.

Response Argument 2: The Board provided several reasons for this argument to be void.

Firstly, assigning tasks sequentially based on users’ acceptance is inherent to the non-technical, administrative concept.

Secondly, broadcasting tasks to all users contradicts the idea of using profiles, which is to select those users who, based on their profile or availability, can potentially accept a task. This is the opposite of selecting all users, regardless of their availability, for example in the case of firefighters responding to a fire alarm.

Additionally, from a technical perspective, broadcasting data in the context of location-based services is not practical because data should only be provided to users at a specific location (and time), not to all users of the service.

Therefore, […] any potential technical effect resulting from the underlying administrative concept, such as a reduction in network traffic, is a mere bonus effect not achieved by specific technical means and, hence, does not contribute to inventive step.

Response Argument 3:

This argument fails as claim 1 mostly defines an administrative concept that is given to the skilled person for implementation.

In summary, the distinguishing features of the invention are found to be non-technical and can thus not be considered when assessing inventive step, regardless of their novelty or innovation.

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

More information

The decision can be found here: T 0926/20 (Mobile location-based task assignment/AR CHECK) of March 21, 2023.

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