29 December 2010

System for Financial Transactions Allowed by EPO Boards of Appeal (T 1051/07)

In case T 1051/07, the EPO's Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03 decided on allowability of EP 1 365 368 of Korean mobile service provider SK Telecom. The application relates to a system for executing financial transactions in that a mobile account is issued to a mobile phone subscriber and is administratively managed by the service provider, while a transaction with the mobile account is effectuated by a transaction between a bank account of the subscriber and intermediate accounts ("juridical body accounts") of the mobile sevice provider at different banks.

The Examining Division (see decision) found that this teaching only relates to organisational, procedural or administrative aspects of financial transactions involving a mobile account that, as such, lacks technical character. The application was thus refused due to lack of invention step (Art. 56 EPC) since the difference over prior art cannot contribute to inventive step.

Claim 1 under appeal, comprising the features of original claims 1 and 3, reads:

A transaction system (100) for providing a financial transaction service to a subscriber, said transaction system (100) comprising:
  1. a service control unit (120) which processes financial transaction services for the subscriber;
  2. a subscriber service interface (160) for providing a service menu to a mobile terminal of the subscriber through a communication network (200) and for outputting (S110; S210) a corresponding charging or realization service request message to said service control unit (120) to provide a corresponding financial transaction service when an item of said service menu is selected;
  3. a transaction service interface (150) connecting said service control unit (120) by means of a financial network (300) to at least one bank settlement system (410; 420) which upon a settlement request message transmitted by said service control unit (120) by means of said financial network (300) to said bank settlement system (410; 420) processes a first transfer of money between a bank account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service opened in said bank settlement system (410; 420) and a bank account of the subscriber; and
  4. a database (110) for storing data processed in said service control unit (120), said database (110) including a service account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service and a mobile account granted to a cellular phone number of a mobile terminal of the subscriber, wherein the service control unit (120) processes a second transfer of a corresponding amount of money between the service account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service and the mobile account of the subscriber.
As to novelty, the Board held that claim 1 differs over prior art D1 (WO 00/31699 A) in the mobile account. The Board further concluded that at least the following features of claim 1 are not disclosed in D2 (WO 97/45814 A), which was considered the closest prior art:
  • a subscriber service interface for outputting a corresponding charging or realization service request message to said service control unit to provide a corresponding financial transaction service when an item of said service menu is selected (cf feature b);
  • a transaction service interface (150) connecting said service control unit (120) by means of a financial network (300) to at least one bank settlement system (410; 420) which upon a settlement request message transmitted by said service control unit (120) by means of said financial network (300) to said bank settlement system (410; 420) processes a first transfer of money between a bank account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service opened in said bank settlement system (410; 420) and a bank account of the subscriber (cf feature c);
  • a database including a service account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service (cf feature d);
  • wherein the service control unit processes a second transfer of a corresponding amount of money between the service account of the juridical body providing the financial transaction service and the mobile account of the subscriber (cf feature d).
With respect to inventive step, the Board found that "the above distinguishing features over D2
allow a user (subscriber) to load money on his account in the host computer", which would lead to the objective technical problem to "provide the system with means allowing a user to load money on his account in the host computer (or realise money from his account)".

Since none of cited prior art documents directly addresses that problem or contains any indication as to its solution, the Board considered the claimed solution inventive over prior art.

Conclusion: As opposed to the ED's finding that the claimed subject-matter only relates to a straightforward technical implementation of an administrative banking procedure lying outside the patentable regime, the Board did not consider claim 1 to merely recite an administrative banking procedure alongside straightforward technical means for its implementation but, rather, identified a technical solution, involving technical means to the technical problem of how to reload such an account.

In line with the EPO's adapted problem solution approach, as developed in T 208/84 (Vicom) and T 641/00 (Comvik) for assessing software-implemented inventions, the present case shows (again) that even commercial or administrative methods may be both patent eligible according to Art. 52 EPC and inventive according to Art. 56 EPC, if the claimed teaching comprises technical features that - simultaneously - solve a technical problem in a non-obvious way. Even though the non-technical context of a teaching is per se regarded as prior art under the adapted problem solution approach and thus may be detrimental to the inventiveness of a business method claim, this hurdle may be overcome by a reasonable level of technical detail, as demonstrated by the present case.

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