In this decision, the European Patent Office refused to grant a software patent on the concept of withdrawing cash from an ATM using a payment order delivered via SMS, without the need for a banking card. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2318/13 (Method for obtaining cash at cardless teller machines, using a payment order via SMS) of 26.9.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Combining banking and cash withdrawal services of different financial institutions: non-technical business idea

The invention

This European patent application generally relates to the problem of allowing a beneficiary to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines (ATM) using a payment order delivered via SMS without the need for any payment instrument, such as a bank card, and type of account.

According to the patent applicant, the invention responded to the need of thousands of immigrants living in developed countries who regularly send money to their relatives in their countries of origin. While SMS services of mobile phones and ATMs were known, no system involving more than one bank had apparently reached the public, due to security drawbacks that arose because two different financial institutions would have needed to exchange client account data.

To solve this problem, the invention proposes the following: An issuing entity (3 in Figure 1) receives a request (1a) for acceptance/cancellation of a payment order from a Principal (2). The issuing entity (3) communicates the order (1b) to a central unit or national ATMPAY module (4), which is separate from the networks of banking institutions and which handles the acceptance/cancellation requests. Once authorised, the beneficiary (6) receives from the central unit (4), via SMS (1d), a reference number, an amount and a PIN code (individual for each operation) which he or she provides to an ATM (7) for withdrawing money from a acquiring entity (8), which may be a different financial institution.

Fig. 1 of EP 1 783 676
Fig. 1 of EP 1 783 676

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

The board of appeal started its inventive-step analysis from a prior art document from which claim 1 differed by the provision of a national central module (4) and the associated interactions with it as defined in features (b), (c), (d), (g) and (h). Feature (b) specifies that the issuing entity sends the order to the central module; features (g) and (h) specify that the central module processes requests for authorisation from the acquiring entities; features (c) and (d) specify that the central module uses SMS communication for informing a principal about the authorisation of its order and for sending authorisation information to the beneficiary permitting the withdrawal of money.

First of all, the board assessed the overall drawback to be overcome by the invention, namely the limitation to cash withdrawals from ATMs of the same financial institution:

A business person would recognise the limitation of the business concept of the D1 system, because cash withdrawal was possible only from ATMs of the same financial institution, namely of the principal who requested the money order, see paragraphs [0005] and [0014]. In a situation when thousands of immigrants want to send money regularly to their relatives in their countries of origin, different business needs arise, for example, beneficiaries (in countries of origin) would like to withdraw cash from any ATM of any financial institution and principals would not like to be limited to use a particular financial institution. This boils down to the business idea of making money from a new monetary service which combines banking and cash withdrawal services of different financial institutions, under the assumption that contractual agreements have been reached on the payment of fees, operating expenses and charges for the operations to be carried out, as assumed and recognised in the application, see paragraphs [0021] and [0022]. Even the appellant argued during oral proceedings that the term “national central module” could be seen as sort of new “legal entity” which combines financial services.

The implementation of this business idea was considered straight-forward:

Concerning the means for implementing this new business idea, the Board does not see a reason to disagree with the appellant who stated at the bottom of page 8 of the grounds of appeal, that “all the technical knowledge and tools needed for developing the system of the invention were available from at least 15 years ago. Indeed, the system only requires the use of conventional banking networking tools combination with the SMS service of mobile phones”.

Regarding features (b), (g) and (h), the Board considers it to be obvious to implement these functions as a separate module within the banking system of D1. These functions directly result from the business requirements of the new monetary service which permits different financial institutions to interoperate, such as, to arrange the acceptance / cancellation of payment orders, reporting that the payment order was carried out, to receive authorisation / correction requests for cash withdrawal and to grant them. The implementation of these functions as a module within the D1 system, for example, on the network host computer (20), paragraph [0013], would have been obvious for the person skilled in the art. Also its implementation as a separate “unit” (server) within the D1 system is an obvious design alternative, because D1 already discloses using different servers for different purposes, such as the terminal server, IVR server and back office server.

Aos concerning the feature of using SMS for transmitting the code to the beneficiary, the board decided that this only an obvious implementation of a requirement arising from the business specification:

Turning to the “SMS” feature, see features (c) and (d), the Board agrees with the appellant that the automatic transmission of the code directly to the beneficiary can be seen as being motivated by the desire to avoid fraud of the principal if he or she withdraws the money by himself or herself. The Board judges, however, that such a requirement is also part of the business specification.

The use of SMS communication for the transmission of information to principal and beneficiary was also an obvious implementation of this, because SMS was a well-known communication technology at the priority date of the application.

Therefore, claim 1 was found not to involve an inventive step, and the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2318/13 (Method for obtaining cash at cardless teller machines, using a payment order via SMS)

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