This decision concerns an application that relates to proximity-dependent reminders for wireless devices. 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 1369/20 (Proximity-dependent reminders/BLACKBERRY) of December 06, 2022 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

Key takeaways

Using a proximity-dependent reminder for populating a time-based appointment or meeting, and then deleting it is a business idea and thus not technical.

The invention

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

Calendar applications normally store and remind a user about meetings and appointments at specific times, called “time-dependent events” in the application. The invention concerns a new feature for a mobile calendar application which enables the user to define an event that is triggered when a specified second user gets close enough to the first user to discuss some subject, called “proximity-dependent event”. Various details entered about the proximity-dependent event can be subsequently automatically copied into a conventional time-based calendar event (original application, [29] to [31]).

Looking at Figure 7, the proximity-dependent event, created by the first user, includes an ID field indicating the unique signature of the second user’s portable device ([26]) and a subject field indicating the issue to be discussed ([29], last sentence).

Once the proximity-dependent event has been created, the first user’s portable device determines automatically whether the second portable device is close to it, and if so, it notifies the user, see [27]. In an embodiment claimed by the eighth auxiliary request, the second portable device is detected using ultra wideband range radio technology ([16], [27] and [40]).

Having met with the second user, the calendar application enables the first user to create a time-based follow-up event if there is a need for further action or discussion on the subject ([30]). This can be a meeting with the second user or an appointment which does not require the presence of the second user ([31] and [33]). The calendar application automatically copies the proximity-dependent reminder’s subject to the time-based reminder and, in the case of a meeting, it sets the second user as the attendee ([31] and [34]). Having populated the time-based reminder with all required information, the calendar application saves it and deletes the proximity-dependent reminder ([35]).

Fig. 10 of EP 2 000 961 A1

  • Claim 1 (Eighth Auxiliary Request)

Is it technical?

The appellant argued that there were further distinguishing features which the examining division overlooked, namely:

  1. Time-dependent events and
  2. Proximity-dependent reminders, especially involving two users, as opposed to location-dependent reminders

The appellant further described the technical effect of the distinguishing features as follows:

The automatic population of the time-dependent events reduced the required user input and, therefore, saved computing resources and battery power. It also cut down wear and tear of the user’s portable device.

The display of the second user’s calendar to the first user provided the technical advantage that the first user did not disturb the second one unnecessarily.

However, the Board does not seem convinced and instead agreed with the examining division (decision, point 12.2.5):

4.5 […] Using a proximity-dependent reminder for populating a time-based appointment or meeting, and then deleting it is a business idea. Using the COMVIK approach (see decision T 641/00), this idea is given to the skilled person as a requirement specification to implement. The distinguishing features follow directly from this requirement specification.

4.6 Incidentally, providing a reminder upon establishing that the user is close to another user is also a non-technical feature. Thus, even if it were novel over D1, it would still have been obvious for the same reasons as features A to C. Furthermore, it does not really matter whether the calendar application of D1 supports time-dependent events or not. Since the requirement specification dictates that the time-dependent events should be created, the skilled person would have arrived at the claimed invention either way.

The Board further underlines this point as follows:

4.7 Contrary to the appellant’s argument, the reduction of user input does not seem to be achieved over D1. In fact, due to the creation of time-dependent reminders, the claimed calendar application uses more computing resources than the one according to D1 which does not create such reminders. Furthermore, even assuming that this effect were provided, it would not result from technical considerations, but rather from the above-mentioned non-technical requirement that is given to the skilled person to implement for non-technical reasons. Thus, it would be at most a bonus effect which does not confer technical character upon the business idea set out in point 4.5 above (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 10th ed., 2022, 1.D.10.8).

As a result, the Board came to the conclusion that claim 1 of the eighth auxiliary request lacks an inventive step and that none of the other requests are allowable. Thus, the appeal must be dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2879/18 (Proximity-dependent reminders/BLACKBERRY) of December 06, 2022.

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