This is an examination appeal around EP 2 776 993 “METHOD FOR PROCESSING AN ELECTRONIC PAYMENT CERTIFICATE”. The applicant is Otto Group Solution Provider GmbH, a German IT service provider for companies in omnichannel retail, logistics and e-commerce.

The invention concerns the systematic storing and analyzing of electronic and printed payment certificates which document purchases made by a user.

From a structural point of view, the system includes a central database connected to a computer, e.g. a shop cash register equipped with a bar code scanner:

Fig. 2 of EP 2 776 993

When a user makes a purchase, the cash register creates a payment certificate and transmits it to the central database over the Internet, where it is stored .

The central database stores payment certificates that are created when a user purchases something at the cash register. In addition, information extracted from printed payment certificates can be input into the database using a scanning device and optical character recognition (OCR) methods.

The database also includes a statistical application analysing data extracted from payment certificates assigned to the user’s account in order to predict future purchasing behaviour of the user. This might include, e.g., predicting the probability that the user will want to purchase a certain product or a price he will be willing to pay for it.

In the embodiment claimed in the auxiliary requests, a certificate is published on the Internet when a user resells a product to which it relates. More specifically, having created a resale offer on an online auction platform or a shopping website, the user accesses the database and initiates adding the payment certificate to the offer. The database then communicates with the online auction platform or the shopping website to automatically add the certificate to the offer.

Is predicting future purchases technical?

The board acknowledged that claim 1 differed from the closest prior art by “predicting future acquisitions by a user and/or parameters of future acquisitions by a user based on previous acquisitions by the user and/or parameters of previous acquisitions by the user”.

The applicant had argued that this feature solved the objective technical problem of how to select a product to be presented to a user and to adjust the timing and location of the presentation of the product to the user.

However, the board considered that this problem formulation is not correct, because claim 1 did not mention presenting products to the user.

In any case, the board did not consider the alleged effect to be a technical one:

Secondly, even assuming for the sake of argument that the claimed method predicts time and location at which a user is likely to make future purchases, this is in the Board’s view not a (further) technical effect counting towards an inventive step. Rather, using statistical methods to predict future purchases based on previous ones is a business research activity excluded per se from patentability under Article 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC (cf. decision T 154/04, points 19 and 20 of the reasons).

T 0977/17, reasons 2.2

Applying the established COMVIK approach, the feature in question did not enter the inventive-step assessment:

Using the COMVIK approach (see decision T 641/00) this non-technical functionality cannot contribute to an inventive step and is instead given to the skilled person within the framework of the objective technical problem. Accordingly, the Board considers that the skilled person faces the objective technical problem of implementing feature A in the system of D1.

The implicit computer implementation involves merely routine programming and would have been obvious to the skilled person.

T 0977/17, reasons 2.2

Digitalizing printed payment certificates?

A second difference over the closest prior art was a “scanning device adapted to scan a printed payment certificate and extract information from the printed payment certificate for further processing of the information in the database”

The examining division held that this feature had the technical effect of improving database completeness. The appellant argued that this feature improved data accuracy. More specifically, unlike electronic payment certificates, printed ones reflected in each case a completed transaction and included a correct final price. Furthermore, the printed certificates’ content and uniform format were laid down by law and for this reason these certificates had to contain accurate and complete information. Also, the uniform format made them easy to analyse.

But the board did not consider any of these effects to be technical:

Firstly, the advantages of increased data accuracy and ease of analysis are not derivable from the original application which does not explain why paper certificates are used. The application does not mention the format and content of printed certificates.

Secondly, even assuming that using the printed certificates indeed provided the alleged advantages, the decision to use these certificates would be based on considerations concerning their cognitive business content. These are purely business considerations.

Hence, the Board judges that at the claimed level of detail the requirement to use printed certificates does not involve any technical considerations and constitutes non-technical business matter.

T 0977/17, reasons 2.4

Therefore, also this feature could not be the basis for an inventive step, and the main request was found to lack inventive step overall. Also the auxiliary requests had a similar fate, and so the appeal was dismissed in the end.

You can read the whole decision here: T 0977/17 (Storing electronic receipts/OTTO GROUP SOLUTION PROVIDER) of 17.6.2021

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