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:
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.
Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)Method for the withdrawal of cash at automatic telling machines for the withdrawal of funds without the need for the beneficiary to be the holder of an account or card, which is characterized by comprising the following stages:
a) a first stage (1a), in which an issuing entity (3) receives a request for acceptance / cancellation of a payment order from a principal or client (2);
b) a stage (1b) where the issuing entity (3) arranges the acceptance / cancellation of the order on-line with a national central module (4), where all the orders are processed;
c) a stage (1c), in which an SMS acceptance / cancellation message is sent by way of the communications structure for sending SMS messages, and in the event of acceptance of the service the transmission of the respective authorization of payment, which will have to be validated by the requester, all this being arranged from the national central module (4);
d) a stage (1d), in which the national central module (4) uses the communications structure to send an SMS message to the beneficiary (6) of the operation, containing both the identification particulars of the principal (2) and the amount of the transaction, together with a code or PIN;
e) a stage (1e), where the beneficiary (6) makes the request for cash at an ATM (7) enabled for this purpose, without the need to use an instrument of payment, but only the code or PIN which has been supplied to the beneficiary (6);
f) a stage (1f), in which an authorization / correction request is made from the ATM (7) to the acquiring entity (8), by way of the communication networks of the actual acquiring entity (8);
g) a stage (1g), where the authorization / correction request is effected, this time by the acquiring entity (8) to the afore-mentioned national central module (4);
h) a stage (1h), in which the national central module (4) authorizes / denies the request of the previous stage and communicates this decision to the acquiring entity (8);
i) a stage (1i), where the acquiring entity (8) authorizes / denies the operation, sending the respective notification by way of the internal communication network to the cash dispenser (7);
j) a stage (1j), in which delivery of the cash to the beneficiary (6) via de (sic) cash dispenser (7) is confirmed / denied, making use of the cash delivery device of the ATM (7) if delivery has been confirmed, so that the beneficiary (6) may proceed to its withdrawal;
k) a stage (1k), where an off-line communication is effected from the national central module (4) to the issuing entity (3) that has carried out the payment order;
l) a stage (10a), in the execution of which a presentation of certain data concerning the payment is made by the acquiring entity (8) to the national central module (4), showing the payment orders processed, fees, operating expenses and charges generated in the handling of the operation;
m) a stage (10b), where the national central module (4) submits the payment orders, fees, operating expenses and charges to the issuing entity (3);
n) a stage (10c) in which the issuing entity (3) presents the principal (2) with the settlement and collection of charges for the operation carried out;
n) a stage (10d), where the acquiring entity (8) effects the relevant settlement with the cash dispenser (7) used in the transaction;
o) a stage (10e), in which access takes place via a liquidating entity (11) to the national electronic clearing system (12), where the respective clearing actions relating to the operation processed are carried out;
p) a stage (10f), where the appropriate pay-backs take place between the issuing entity and the national central module (4) take place (sic), and
q) a stage (10g), in which the appropriate pay-backs take place between the national central module (4) and the acquiring entity (8),
where the national central module (4) does not belong to the issuing entity (3) or the acquiring entity (8).
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  and . 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  and . 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 , 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.
You can read the whole decision here: T 2318/13 (Method for obtaining cash at cardless teller machines, using a payment order via SMS)
Bastian is a European patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.