The EPO considered determining whether a suspicious vehicle needs to be stopped to detect a toll offence is a legal requirement and thus non-technical. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0595/16 (Kontrollbedüftiges Fahrzeug/TOLLCOLLECT) of 14.9.2020 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Assigning vehicles to different groups based on specific criteria in order to decide whether a vehicle has to be checked manually is a business-related method and thus not technical.

The invention

This European patent application underlying the present decision relates to a control method for road toll collection using a control system. Every vehicle on every road section that is monitored by the system is to be checked by collecting usable vehicle information. Based on these information, it is decided whether suspicious vehicles are stopped and checked manually by inspection staff (cf. WO 02/061690 A1, pages 1-3).

Fig. 5 of WO 02/061690 A1

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request) - translated from German into English by the author of this post

Is it patentable?

The first-instance examining division rejected the application due to lack of inventive step in light of prior art document D4. Independent claim 1 of the rejected application differs from the teaching of D4 in that control data of a vehicle subject to checks are not transmitted to a control center but to a control point. According to the application, a control point is a checkpoint where control staff performs manual inspections of vehicles. However, the first-instance examining division considered this distinguishing feature to be non-technical and argued that the necessity of stopping a suspicious vehicle to conduct a further manual control is considered a legal requirement, but not a technical one. Hence, the distinguishing feature was not considered for the assessment of inventive step (cf. point 1.4 of the appeal decision).

During appeal stage, the applicant further argued that assigning the vehicles to be checked into different case groups as specified by claim 1 would be technical (cf. point 1.5 of the appeal decision). In more detail, it would be technical to change the number of vehicles that need to be checked by assigning them to different groups which are then used to decide whether a vehicle is manually checked or not.

However, the board in charge did not follow these arguments and argued that assigning vehicles to different groups is a business-related method to control the number of vehicles to be checked, as for example outlined in the  description in the sentence bridging pages 30 and 31. Hence, also the feature of claim 1 referring to the case groups is considered non-technical and thus not relevant for assessing inventive step.

As a result, the board in charge came to the conclusion that D4 renders-obvious the claimed subject-matter and dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0595/16 (Kontrollbedüftiges Fahrzeug/TOLLCOLLECT) of 14.9.2020

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