The application underlying this decision relates to delivery of rain-sensitive parcels. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the implementation of a non-technical logistics scheme. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1806/20 (Rain-sensitive parcels/IVECO) of November 17, 2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Avoidance of rain damages with respect to parcel delivery is not a technical, but a business consideration.

Data is only considered as functional data if data loss results in an inoperable system.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision focuses on a parcel delivery system aimed at preventing water damage to sensitive parcels. The system utilizes RFID technology, weather forecasts, and a remote server to enhance the route planning and delivery management process.

The delivery vehicle, equipped with a satellite navigation system connected to a remote server, calculates routes and acquires weather forecasts for parcel destinations. Each parcel has an RFID tag storing its delivery details and water-sensitivity feature. The remote server, independently managing water-sensitivity features, guides the driver through the calculated route. If rain is expected at a destination, the navigation system warns the driver, and the server reschedules delivery for a rain-free time on the same day or the following day.

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

Both the Board in charge and the Appellant agreed that the closest prior art document D3 failed to disclose the following distinguishing features:

A) Delivery of a plurality of parcels, contrasting with the single parcel delivery in the prior art.

B) The route involves multiple destinations with weather forecasts and time intervals for each, in contrast to the prior art, which provides these details for only one destination.

C) Incorporation of an RFID tag associated with each parcel, storing both water-sensitivity features and destination.

D) Inclusion of means for sending a warning message when rain is expected at the destination of a water-sensitive parcel during its expected delivery time.

E) The remote server’s ability to recalculate the route in case of rain, either by postponing the delivery on the same day or rescheduling it to the following rain-free day.

The Appelant argued as follows:

The prevention of damage to physical objects, exemplified by avoiding rain damage to parcels, is a technical solution akin to protecting electrical circuits.

The calculation of real-time guided vehicle routes based on real-world conditions, such as water-sensitivity features and rain forecasts, is a technical task (cf., T 2035/11).

The water-sensitivity features and rain forecast are classified as functional data with inherent technical character, meeting the criteria established in T 1194/97.

The technical nature of the parcels’ water-sensitivity features was affirmed due to their association with RFID technology.

However, the Board did not follow this argumentation and instead found that the distinguishing features implement a non-technical logistics scheme. The Board argued as follows:

Labeling rain-sensitive parcels and avoiding their delivery in the rain is deemed a common-sense business measure, falling under a business activity. Such measures do not necessitate technical considerations, distinguishing it from examples involving technical protective measures.

Contrary to the referenced case T 2035/11, the present application does not involve a dynamic recalculation of a route, but merely a rescheduling which covers following the same route but not dropping some parcels off. Even if one would consider the rescheduling involving some route modification, said modification has only technical character if it is based on technical considerations. However, avoidance of rain damages is not considered a technical consideration.

Data is only considered functional if the loss of said data would make the system inoperable at the technical level. However, the loss of water-sensitivity information would not cause the system to stop working as the vehicle would still be guided, and parcels would be delivered.

Accordingly, the Board applying the Comvik Approach concluded that implementing the above-identified distinguishing features would have been obvious for the skilled person in view of the above-outlined business requirements. Thus, the Board concluded that the subject matter of claim 1 lacks an inventive step under Article 56 EPC, because the distinguishing features are considered part of a non-technical logistics scheme, and adapting a known system (D3) with these features would be obvious to a skilled person based on common sense business requirements. The use of RFID tags is also deemed obvious in view of common general knowledge.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1806/20 (Rain-sensitive parcels/IVECO) of November 17, 2023.

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