The European Patent Office refused to grant a patent for a navigation system that can be tailored to a user’s particular wishes. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2035/11 (Navigation system/BEACON NAVIGATION) of 25.7.2014 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Mathematical algorithms may contribute to the technical character of an invention only in so far as they serve a technical purpose.

The mere fact that the input to an algorithm has a particular meaning in the real-world is insufficient for the algorithm to make a technical contribution.

The invention

The focus of the present application is on the route-planning functionality of a navigation system. Such a navigation system can either be installed in a vehicle or located in a personal computer. The navigation system comprises a database of road segments, a system for selecting a beginning point, a user input device for selecting a desired destination, and a system for determining a route between said beginning point and said desired destination.

The invention essentially proposes an optimization algorithm to determine a path (consisting of a series of graph edges) connecting a first graph node to a second graph node and having the lowest total cost.

Fig. 3 of EP 1 018 081
Fig. 3 of EP 1 018 081
  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The Board considered that the optimization algorithm of claim 1 does not serve a technical purpose and therefore does not make a technical contribution:

5.1.3 … In the present case the purpose of the algorithm is the mere display of an optimal path to the user for cognitive processing. The user may act on the information, but does not need to. As stated in decision T 1670/07 of 11 July 2013, reasons 13, a technical effect may arise from either the provision of data about a technical process, regardless of the presence of the user or its subsequent use, or from the provision of data (including data that on its own is excluded, e.g. produced by means of an algorithm) that is applied directly in a technical process. In the present case the data is produced by means of an algorithm and is not applied directly in a technical process, so that neither possibility applies.

In contrast, the applicant (in this case the appellant) argued that the algorithm was concerned with real-world facts. The costs associated with road segments reflected technical and geographical conditions and specifics to the topographical information which were to be considered when determining the route.

However, the Board stated:

5.1.4 … the present invention is not concerned with the specifics of the constitution of road maps and corresponding databases. The database of road segments of claim 1 is essentially a graph comprising nodes and edges with cost values assigned to the edges. Calculating a route having the lowest total cost does not require knowledge of environmental conditions or traffic routing and planning. The database of road segments serving as input to the algorithm may reflect real-world facts, but the mere fact that the input to an algorithm has a particular meaning in the real-world is insufficient for the algorithm to make a technical contribution (see e.g. decision T 154/04, OJ EPO 2008, 46, reasons 20).

After further unsuccessful arguments by the appellant, the Board finally decided that claim 1 of the main request is not patentable.

In auxiliary request 1, additional features relating to a “congestion level” were added, which is claimed as a “cost”. The Board assessed that auxiliary request 1 has the potential of an inventive step and therefore remitted the case back to the department of first instance (the Examining Devision) for further prosecution. However, this application was finally refused by the Examining Devision because of lacking an inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2035/11 (Navigation system/BEACON NAVIGATION) of 25.7.2014.

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