This is an example case which involves a mixture of technical and non-technical features. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2486/16 of 12.1.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:
This European patent application concerns a method and device for recording driving characteristics utilized to monitor and compile vehicle usage data and diagnosing device condition for determining an insurance premium.
Some vehicle insurance currently determines price based upon information gathered by in-vehicle sensors that indicate where the vehicle was driven, how fast the vehicle was driven, times of day and days of the week, etc.
There are some concerns that the amount of detailed information that is given to the insurance companies with these types of systems intrudes on the privacy of the users.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The aim of the invention is to improve the privacy of the user.
According to the invention, the privacy of the user is protected by performing some coding prior to sending the information from the user. Specific details of the user’s driving history are converted to generalized codes that relate to insurance rates.
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)
A method of recording vehicle (12) usage comprising the steps of:
a) sensing data indicative of a vehicle (12) location;
b) comparing the data indicative of the vehicle (12) location to a geographic risk map to determine at least one geographical risk rating;
c) transmitting the at least one geographical risk rating to a server (22) without transmitting the data indicative of the vehicle (12) location; and
d) determining an insurance cost based upon the geographical risk rating.
Is it patentable?
The first-instance examining division had refused the application based on lack of novelty and lack of inventive step.
On the appeal stage, the appellant argued that D1 fails to disclose features b) and c) of claim 1 of the main request. According to the appellant, the problem was how to operate a remote usage recording system in a manner that secured the location information against third parties. A secondary problem was to reduce the technical requirements of transmission. Moreover, the transmission of only the risk rating to a server rather than the full location data required the prior comparing step to occur at the vehicle, which necessitated further computing resources. While processing of this nature might be commonplace for vehicles in 2020, this was not the case at the priority date of the application. Simply transmitting all of the data was the solution at the time.
Regarding feature b), the Board interpreted claim 1 broadly:
3.5… the more general point is that claim 1 does not define that the determination of the insurance cost is based only on the geographical risk rating; it is not excluded that other information (including data collected by other sensors on the vehicle, such as the time of day or the speed) may also be part of the determination.
Hence, the Board judges that feature b) is disclosed in D1.
Regarding feature c), the Board found that D1 discloses:
- embodiments in which the driver score is transmitted to the central system, and
- embodiments in which the driver score corresponds to or includes a geographical risk rating.
The Board judges that the embodiments of D1 can not fully anticipate feature c) of claim 1.
Subsequently, the Board used the Problem and Solution approach to assess feature c). Here are the Board’s main considerations:
5.3 In the Board’s view, feature c) comprises both technical and non-technical aspects, and while the Board acknowledges that improved user privacy is the overall aim of the invention, in order to arrive at a precise statement of the technical problem solved by feature c) it is necessary to disentangle the technical and non-technical aspects.
5.4 The present application addresses concerns about “the amount of detailed information that is given to insurance companies” (paragraph ). An obvious and non-technical remedy to these concerns, i.e. that would have occurred to a business person without requiring an engineer or programmer, would be to ensure that the insurance company never had access to this “detailed information” in the first place…
The technical problem solved by feature c) would be how to implement this solution, i.e. how to arrive at a workable method whereby an insurance cost is determined based on geographical location (as in D1), but in which the vehicle location data is not transmitted to the insurance company. In this formulation the non-technical aspect of the distinguishing feature c) appears as part of the framework of the technical problem to be solved, in accordance with T 641/00 (COMVIK, see points 1 and 2 of the Headnote).
The technical solution to this problem, according to the invention, is to transmit to the insurance company server a geographical risk rating, so that the insurance cost may be determined on the server, without requiring transmission of the actual location data.
5.5 The skilled person facing the task of providing a method whereby an insurance cost may be determined based on geographical location, but without transmitting vehicle location data to the insurance company, would readily have found a solution starting from D1:
As mentioned above, D1 discloses a driver score which may constitute or include a geographic risk rating within the meaning of claim 1, and paragraph  discloses that the determination of the driver score can be carried out on the vehicle by the vehicle monitor (point 4.3, above); in such a case it is implicit that the determined driver score would be transmitted to the central system/server for the determination of the insurance cost, with no requirement or incentive to include in the transmitted signal the raw location data, which, once the driver score has been determined, is redundant. The skilled person would thereby have been led in an obvious manner to the subject-matter of feature c).
Therefore, the main request was found to lack an inventive step. Also the other requests did not succeed, so that the appeal was dismissed in the end.
You can read the whole decision here: T 2486/16 of 12.1.2021.
Maggie is a patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. She specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.