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Case law 23 Feb 2023

T0698/19 | Non-technical features in an automated system for the pay-out of insurance premiums

Case T0698/19 discusses the appeal against a decision of the Examining Division (ED) to refuse EP patent application No. 12729952 on the ground of lack of inventive step (Art. 56 EPC).

The invention

The invention was in the field of insurances and related to an automated operatable system and method for the pay-out of insurance premiums based on a special resource-pooling system. Prior to automation, the handling of insured loss cases was handled by insurance agents who determined the amount of loss to be reimbursed based on similar claims and the insurance policy. In the 1960s, such procedures were automated by parametrization of the procedures. Although this increased the efficiency, the accuracy was reduced because not everything could be parametrized.

The system of the present invention attempts to provide an automated system wherein the aspects that could not be parametrized are accounted for. The system provides an automated system wherein risk is divided into a parameterizable part and a non-parameterizable part. The system comprises a network computer for calculating a likelihood of risk exposure, and receiving and storing payments. In case of a loss, payments are automatically transferred to the policy holders from both the risk pool associated with the parameterizable part, and the risk pool associated with the non-parameterizable part.

Technical features

The Board had argued in the preliminary opinion that they considered the invention to be a mixed-type invention. Some part of the features of claim 1, such as the network computer, were technical, while the remaining features would relate to an abstract economic model for determining and transferring insurance risks.

The Applicant/Appellant (A) disagreed with the classification of the non-technical features associated with splitting the risk into a parameterizable and non-parameterizable part.

In summary, claim 1 included the features of splitting an insurance case into a parameterizable and a non-parameterizable part and treating the non-parameterizable part by pattern matching with historical data and seamless integration. The dispute on technical features is focused around the technical character of the splitting, pattern matching, and seamless integration.

A argued that the feature of splitting the pooled risk into a parameterizable risk part and a non-parameterizable risk part would contribute to the technical character because it allowed for the complete automation of an insurance premium payment. Automation was technical as such and hence had a technical effect.

The Board concurred that automation is technical in itself, and more in general that non-technical features can have a technical effect. However, the automation predominantly serves the automatic payment of an insurance premium, which is a purely non-technical purpose and motivated by a business plan or commission by the “notional business person”. The technically skilled person may work the implementation out in straightforward manner.

In addition,

“if non-technical features have both a technical and a none technical effect, the technical effect must be taken into account when assessing inventive step, but the technical effect must be clearly derivable from the application as a whole” (Reasons 3.6.4 (1)).

The Board did not consider this to be applicable here.

Regarding the seamless integration, A argued that the feature “wherein the separation of the parameterizable and non-parameterizable part is connected through a seamless integration keeping the risk exposure components (21, 22, 23) not affected by the difference in the transfer” would be technical. A argued that seamless integration, which referred to the mathematical integration below a curve, was a numerical method that made the splitting of the risk technically possible. The Board, however, did not find this interpretation plausible and considered “seamless integration” as a smooth integration of new functionalities in existing software. Based on this interpretation, the Board concluded the feature to be non-technical.

In addition, A argued that treating the non-parameterizable part by pattern matching with long-term historical data was technical because it had a technical effect that could only be achieved by the technically skilled person. The notorious business person would not be able to integrate this into the system.

The Board did not dispute this, yet explained that it is considered as an object of the invention and a business constraint that the pattern matching module was integrated into the parametrizing module without affecting it. The detailed technical implementation is the task of the technically skilled person and could not be undertaken by the notional business person. However, neither the claims nor the application disclose in detail how the “pattern matching with historical data” is performed. Such a method might contain technical and inventive features, but as these were not disclosed in the application, they therefore could not contribute to the technical character of the feature.

As a result, the Board concluded that each of the disputed features were steps of an economic algorithm that implemented an abstract economical model. These steps in isolation therefore did not contribute to the technical character of the invention.

Other case law

As a further argument and referring to G1/19, A stated that it was fundamentally irrelevant whether a simulated process or underlying procedure was of a technical or non-technical nature. Rather the question was whether the means constituted a technical contribution. According to A, this was the case here as the steps in combination improved the stability of the automated system of the invention, i.e., a technical contribution.

The Board did not contest that the claimed method might provide better results than known methods, but pointed out that this would not imply that it made a technical contribution. Moreover, a disclosure as to how the algorithm is implemented in practice must be provided in order to give evidence that the algorithm has any proved further technical effect with respect to known algorithms and that it provides an improvement over the prior art. The present invention claimed a more stable system, but the application did not support or explain this in sufficient detail. The features therefore did not give a technical contribution.

Consequently, the features related to the splitting, pattern matching and seamless integration alone or in combination all had to be regarded as non-technical.

Inventive step

The Board formulated the technical problem as the technical implementation of the abstract economic model with all the features discussed above, to automate the payment of insurance premiums. They referred to the COMVIK approach for the allowability to include non-technical claim features in the formulation of the objective technical problem.

As the required technical solution does not go beyond the mere automation of constraints imposed by the business related aspects, the Board concluded that claim 1 lacks inventive step.

Decision of the Board

The appeal was dismissed.


Summary written by the NLO EPO Case Law Team

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