The application relates to an aggregated soft card on a mobile device wireless device for conducting payment and non-payment transactions. The Examination Division alleged that the distinguishing features related to business aspects solving no technical problem and that their implementation was mere automation of constraints imposed by business aspects. However, the Board decided that although there may be a business idea to link a loyalty card with a payment credit card, the business idea stops there. The process of requesting and providing an “aggregated” soft card is clearly technical.

Since the first instance failed to search the features for being non-technical, the Board remitted with the instruction to properly apply the COMVIK approach and perform an additional search. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0658/18 (Aggregated soft card/MASTERCARD) of June 13, 2022, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01

Key takeaways

It may be seen as a business idea to link credit and loyalty cards in sort of an aggregated soft card to make sure that loyalty points are registered after a purchase was made with a particular credit card. However, the business idea stops here. The process of requesting and providing an “aggregated” soft card is clearly technical.

A trusted service manager server accessing a mapping database, the generation of an “aggregated” soft card and the provision of a link including an appli­cation identifier list, are not a business method but these features have a technical character.

In the absence of prior art proving the contrary, they cannot be assumed to be known as such. The term “notorious” should always be interpreted narrowly. 

The invention

Plastic payment cards (debit, credit cards), as well as non-payment cards (loyalty cards, tickets, club membership cards etc.), can be replaced with soft cards on an near-field communication (NFC) enabled mobile device . However, different soft cards may be used separately in sequence during a single wireless transaction (e.g., a loyalty card followed by a credit card). Although the issuing of a dual-purpose soft card is desirable, communication and compatibility problems can arise when utilizing a soft card version.

The invention addresses the technical problem of how to provide and utilize an aggregated soft card on an NFC-enabled mobile device with which it interfaces with a passive wireless transceiver. The solution is an aggregated soft card which is a combination of two or more electronic cards logically linked as a single aggregated soft card and depicted/displayed on a mobile device as a single visual representation. Logically linking the two or more soft cards into an aggregated one allows using them in a single payment transaction (without multiple taps on a card reader).

This is achieved by the mobile device transmitting a request for a multi-component soft card to a service provider trusted service manager SP-TSM or TSM which then requests the component soft card data from the plurality of soft card issuing system servers, and which creates the aggregated soft card by creating a mapping table on behalf of a primary card issuer that establishes an association between the primary component card and the secondary component card.

Fig. 1 of WO 2013/067507 A1
  • Claim 1

Is it patentable?

The Examining Division refused the application and considered the subject-matter of the claims lacked inventive step over documents D1 (US 2010/0041368). The distinguishing features and the technical problem were defined as follows:

2.1 Claim 1 of the main request was refused for a lack of inventive step over D1 (US2010/0041368), from which it was distinguished according to the examining division by the following features, see point 14 of the decision under appeal :

(i) the soft card is an aggregated soft card,

(ii) a plurality of soft card issuing servers,

(iii) to access a mapping database to identify a primary component soft card and at least one secondary component soft card that constitutes the aggregated soft card using an aggregated soft card identifier contained in the request from the mobile device and to identify addresses of the soft card issuing system servers hosting the component soft card data associated with each of the primary component soft card and at least one secondary component soft card,

(iv) to request the component soft card data associated with each of the primary component soft card and the at least one secondary component soft card from the plurality of soft card issuing system servers,

(v) wherein the link includes an application identifier list that contains application identifiers that identify the primary component soft card and the at least one secondary component soft card and are loaded into a proximity payment system environment (PPSE) application of the mobile device in accordance with a predefined preference order in which the primary component soft card and the at least one secondary component soft card are attempted to be used in a [wireless] transaction with the aggregated soft card,

(vi) wherein each of the application identifiers for the primary component soft card and the at least one secondary soft card includes a field that includes an indicator that respectively designates each of the primary component soft card and the at least one secondary soft card as a component of the aggregated soft card.

2.2 The examining division considered that features (i, iii to vi) relate to business aspects solving no technical problem and that their implementation was a mere automation of constraints imposed by business aspects, whereas feature (ii) was a standard alternative in network processing to either centralize or decentralize a predetermined functionality, see point 14 of the decision; D1 was disclosing a single server.

The applicant disagreed with the distinguishing features and the reasoning of the Examining Division:

2.3 The appellant in summary argues that D1 deals with the provisioning of soft cards which are single component cards used in payment transactions whereas the invention proposes an aggregated or multi-component soft card, which is a combination of two or more component electronic or virtual cards that are logically linked as a single card, on a mobile device. The aggregated soft card is provided by a a trusted service manager (TSM) server upon request from the mobile device. This is an additional difference (ia) compared to D1.

This TSM server does not contain a limited number of different component soft cards, but it is configured, based on the received requests, to identify different addresses of the soft card issuing system servers hosting the component soft card data and thereafter combine component soft cards to obtain a large variety of aggregated soft cards.

2.4 The features which distinguish claim 1 from D1 are therefore features (i), (ia) and (ii) to (vi) which all together have the technical effect that with a single request an aggregated soft card can be provided that comprises a plurality of soft cards. This leads to the technical problem of “how to improve the provisioning and use of a soft card on a mobile device”, such as the one known from D1.

2.5 The appellant then argues that based on D1, the skilled person might use a single issuing server for hosting a variety of single-component, single-issuer soft cards, wherein the single issuing server would be configured for storing, maintaining and updating, if needed, of the data relating the stored single-component, single-issuer soft cards. However, the skilled person would not be motivated to use a multitude of issuing system servers in combination with a TSM server for the claimed purpose of an aggregated, multi-component soft card by establishing a link among the soft card data received from the plurality of issuing system servers.

While the Board noted that there were some business idea considerations (linking cards to make sure loyalty points are registered after a purchase), they agreed with the applicant that the distinguishing features relating to the particular process of providing an aggregated soft card cannot be considered non-technical:

2.6 The Board agrees with the distinguishing features as set out by the appellant.

D1 discloses the provision of soft cards to a mobile device in replacement of physical cards, see [0012], which can be payment cards, loyalty cards, member cards, identification cards and other payment and non-payment cards. [0027] discloses a wallet client application on the NFC-enabled mobile device 114 which manages multiple soft cards stored in a secure element on the mobile device. Prepaid soft cards (or gift cards) are provided by an OTA provisioning server 112, see [0029] and [0030], to a recipient of a mobile device upon request by a purchaser. Requester and recipient are different persons and the location for requesting a gift card is disclosed to be done from a merchant website or at a merchant point of sale, see [0016] [0023]. The merchant server receives the purchase data and requests the OTA provisioning server to deliver the prepaid soft card to the mobile device, see [0025] and [0026], if the mobile device is NFC-enabled. When payment is made at a cashier, a user selects the payment soft card from the wallet, see [0051], and brings the NFC enabled mobile device in close proximity to the wireless device reader.

2.7 However, D1 is silent about how the other soft cards are provided to and installed on the mobile device.

It may be assumed – reading it implicitly into D1 – that it is the OTA server which provides them. The OTA server would then correspond to the claimed TSM server. It may furthermore be assumed that the “merchant server” in D1 stands for a plurality of merchant servers.

When taking a credit card of D1 as a primary component soft card and a loyalty card of D1 as a secondary component soft card, it may also be seen as a business idea, for example, to link both cards in sort of an aggregated soft card, to make sure that loyalty points are registered after a purchase was made with a particular credit card. Customers might forget to use their loyalty card. Linking these two cards in some way that they are loaded in the payment application in D1 would be a logical technical consequence.

However, the business idea stops here.

2.8 The particular claimed process of requesting and providing an “aggregated” soft card is not disclosed in D1 nor is it rendered obvious, because the features (i), (iii) to (vi), relating to the provision of an “aggregated” soft card were erroneously taken as non-technical whereas they are clearly technical.

2.9 Furthermore, the OTA server of D1 would need to be adapted in the claimed manner, that is, it would need to maintain a mapping database with “aggregated” soft cards, but D1 teaches a different solution: the linking of the different cards in D1 may also be done on the mobile device, simply by allowing a user to combine different cards.

The Board reitereated for a correct application of the COMVIK approach in mixed type invention and warned against the use of alleging that features are “notorious”, in the absence of prior art:

Incorrect application of the COMVIK approach

2.10 The Board observes that the examining division included a trusted service manager (TSM) server accessing a mapping database, the generation of an “aggregated” soft card, the provision of a link including an appli­cation identifier list, in the business method whereas these features have technical character.

2.11 In the Board’s view this was an incorrect application of the COMVIK approach, which only permits “an aim to be achieved in a non-technical field” to appear in the formulation of the problem (T 641/00). They can hardly be regarded as notorious (nor did the examining division allege they were, see point 14, page 4, last paragraph). In the absence of prior art proving the contrary, they cannot be assumed to be known as such. Since the decision under appeal does not cover these aspects of the invention, it must be set aside.

However, although none of the cited documents seems to disclose the distinguishing features, the Board remitted the application to the first instance with an instruction to perform an additional search as the features were not searched during the examination for being non-technical, and a final assessment of the inventive step was impossible without prior art:

Additional search

2.12 Regarding the procedure before the examining division, the Board is of the opinion that the examining division should have performed an additional search since the provision of a trusted service manager (TSM) server accessing a mapping database, the generation of an “aggregated” soft card, the provision of a link including an application identifier list and the other features of claim 1 which relate to the generation of an “aggregated” soft card are neither non-technical nor notorious.

2.13 Following the principles set out in decision T 1242/04, reasons, point 8, the Board considers that it cannot decide without having these features searched which the examining division originally erroneously interpreted to be non-technical or notorious. The term “notorious” should always be interpreted narrowly.

2.14 The examining division briefly noted in paragraph 16 of its decision that the merging or consolidating of several virtual accounts was known in the prior art and referred to the abstracts of D5 and D6. However, there was no detailed discussion about how and why and in which combination this could and would support a lack of inventive step. During the examination procedure, the examining division intro­duced D10 (“Anwendungen und Technik von NFC”), but for a different aspect of the invention, namely for a mobile phone storing several applications having NFC functionality, see point 17 of the decision.

2.15 Although these features were not known from the available prior art, the examining division did not seem to have searched these features at all, which it should have done since these features are of a technical nature. However, a final assessment of the inventive step by the Board is impossible without prior art.

Therefore, the Board remitted the application to the first instance with an instruction to perform an additional search on the features which were considered technical by the Board.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0658/18 (Aggregated soft card/MASTERCARD) of June 13, 2022, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01

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