This is an examination appeal against the refusal of EP 1 774 463 “DYNAMIC BUSINESS METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR DIRECT MARKETING”.

The decision is a nice reminder of how the COMVIK approach for mixed-type invention works at the EPO. It confirms that the implementation of a non-technical method with conventional technology can’t rescue the case.

Selecting the right script for the telephone marketer

The invention concerns the field of telemarketing. The application deals with a situation in which a potential customer calls a number in an advertisement. Such a call is often answered by a sales representative firm that represents many businesses, and so the sales representative needs to find the marketing script associated with the product or service that the customer is calling about.

To this end, the invention concerns a software for the automatic selection of a customized telemarketing script. Claim 1 was directed to a “computer system for linking a marketer to customers”:

The invention uses Automatic Number Identification (ANI), also known as “Caller ID” to identify the calling customer, and Dialled Number Identification Service (DNIS) to identify the dialled number associated with the product or service in the advertisement.

The ANI number received from the telephone system is then used to locate customer information in a database. The customer information is, together with the DNIS information, used to select a script from a database, which is displayed to the marketer. The selection of the script takes place contemporaneously with the time at which the customer’s telephone device provides its ANI number.

Inventive step in the COMVIK approach

The skilled reader will aready smell the issues involved in this case. Of course, the invention comprisess a mixture of technical and non-technical features, so that the COMVIK approach applies:

The established approach for assessing such mixed-type inventions is the “Comvik approach” (see T 641/00 – Two identities/COMVIK, and The Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 9th edition, 9.1.3 b)). Under the Comvik approach, only the technical features which contribute to the solution of a technical problem by providing a technical effect are taken into account for the purpose of assessing inventive step under Article 56 EPC. The non-technical features which make no technical contribution may legitimately form part of the technical problem to be solved as a set of requirements to be met.

T 1141/17, reasons no. 2.2

If you need a more in-depth recap of the European way of assessing inventive step for software inventions, this article gives you a deep dive.

In the present case, the board judged the following features to be non-technical:

  • A customer, having an identity contacting a business (also having an identity) about a product or service
  • A marketer dealing with the customer on behalf of the business
  • Selecting a marketing script from a plurality of marketing scripts divided into a plurality of customer value segments (high, medium, low or “risk” or a combination thereof) based on the customer’s “modelling score” and the relevant business, product or service
  • Presenting the selected script to the marketer

What was left were the following distinguishing features over the prior art:

Starting from a conventional communication system combining a telephone system and a computer system, such as the one disclosed in D1, the invention in claim 1 distinguishes itself by the use of the ANI to locate customer information in a database, the calculation of a modeling score based upon the customer information and the DNIS, the selection of a stored script based on the modeling score contemporaneously with a time at which the customer communications device provides the ANI, and the display of the script to the marketer.

T 1141/17, reasons no. 2.4

The basic question to decide was then whether implementing the non-technical method in the way as claimed (using ANI and DNIS) was obvious.

Can a straight-forward implementation of a non-technical method be inventive?

The board did not think so:

In the Board’s view, the technical implementation of the non-technical requirements, including the use of ANI and DNIS to identify the customer (caller) and the contacted business (callee) respectively, and the use of the computer to contemporaneously look up information in a database, calculate the modelling score, and select and display a relevant script, would have been obvious to the skilled person in the art of telecommunications and computer systems. ANI and DNIS were well known and designed to provide the recipient of the telephone call with information about the caller and the dialled number. The skilled person would have provided suitable means for storing and retrieving data, including the use of the ANI as an identifier for storing and retrieving customer information in a database.

T 1141/17, reasons no. 2.6

In the end, the board decided that claim 1 of the sole request lacked an inventive step, and the appeal was dismissed.

You can read the whole decision here: T 1141/17 (Automatic selection of a marketing script/FRASER) of 15.4.2021

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