T 0074/05 (Financial transactions/CITIGROUP GLOBAL MARKETS) of 23.1.2007

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2007:T007405.20070123
Date of decision: 23 January 2007
Case number: T 0074/05
Application number: 97923535.5
IPC class: G06F 17/60
Language of proceedings: EN
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 28.489K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Method and system for performing automated financial transactions involving foreign currencies
Applicant name: Citigroup Global Markets, Inc.
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.01

Headnote

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Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step (no)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
T 0641/00
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. This appeal is against the decision of the examining division to refuse European patent application No. 97923535.5.

II. The following document will be referred to in the present decision:

D2: GB-A-2 282 246.

III. The examining division decided inter alia that the subject-matter of claim 1 in the version before it did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC). The non-technical background of the invention was identified as performing foreign exchange transactions. Taking as the closest prior art common technical knowledge about client-server architectures, as exemplified by in particular D2, the examining division identified the technical problem as adapting such a client-server system to perform the desired financial transactions. This problem was found to be solved in an obvious way.

IV. In the statement of grounds of appeal, dated 22 December 2004, the appellants requested that the decision be set aside and a patent be granted on the basis of an enclosed set of amended claims 1-24.

V. In a communication from the Board the opinion was expressed that the claims might contain subject-matter added in contravention of Article 123(2) EPC and that the technical features of claim 1 appeared to follow in an obvious way from the cited prior art.

VI. By letter dated 20 December 2006 the appellants filed amended claims 1 to 22 according to a new main request and an auxiliary request.

VII. Oral proceedings were held on 23 January 2007. The appellants filed a set of claims 1-24 (largely identical with the claims filed with the grounds of appeal) as their new main request. The previous main and auxiliary requests were maintained as first and second auxiliary requests, respectively.

VIII. Claim 1 according to the main request reads:

"A system for performing automated financial transactions, comprising:

a financial system comprising a message router (44) and a plurality of servers (100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 114, 116, 118, 122, 124), related to a financial institution;

a personal computer (10) acting as a local client terminal in a client-server architecture with the financial system in order to access the financial system for a transaction;

said message router (44) providing the means by which the personal computer (10) and the servers (100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 114, 116, 118, 122, 124) of the financial system communicate,

characterized in that the system is arranged to handle transactions involving a plurality of currencies and the plurality of servers comprise:

a) a security server (108) arranged to authorize access to the financial system for performing a transaction from the personal computer (10);

b) a rate server (114) arranged to provide to the personal computer (10) a plurality of currencies to be used in the transaction once access is authorized by the security server (108);

c) a foreign exchange (FX) trade server (100) that contains an account to be used in the transaction once access is authorized by the security server (108); wherein the FX trade server (100),

- is arranged to receive a first currency and a second currency chosen from the provided currencies for the transaction and to receive desired characteristics of the transaction including a desired transaction amount,

- comprises means to determine automatically terms to be offered by the financial institution for the transaction including a rate of exchange between the first and second currencies,

- is arranged to inform the personal computer (10) of the offered transaction terms, to receive acceptance of the offered transaction terms from the personal computer (10) and to release automatically the accepted transaction terms for execution of the transaction after receiving the acceptance, and

- is arranged to limit the offered transaction terms to a specific time period."

IX. Claim 1 according to the first auxiliary request reads:

"A system for performing automated financial transactions, comprising:

a financial system comprising a message router (44) and a plurality of servers (100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 114, 116, 118, 122, 124), related to a financial institution;

a personal computer (10) acting as a local client terminal in a client-server architecture with the financial system in order to access the financial system for a transaction;

said message router (44) providing the means by which the personal computer (10) and the servers (100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 114, 116, 118, 122, 124) of the financial system communicate,

characterized in that the system is arranged to handle transactions involving a plurality of currencies and the plurality of servers comprise:

a) a security server (108) arranged to authorize access to the financial system for performing a transaction from the personal computer (10);

b) a rate server (114) arranged to provide to the personal computer (10) a plurality of currencies to be used in the transaction once access is authorized by the security server (108) and also is arranged to provide a base quote for the transaction to the FX trade server (100);

c) a foreign exchange (FX) trade server (100) that contains an account to be used in the transaction once access is authorized by the security server (108); wherein the FX trade server (100),

- is arranged to receive a first currency and a second currency chosen from the provided currencies for the transaction and to receive desired characteristics of the transaction including a desired transaction amount,

- is arranged to automatically add a spread to the base quote for the transaction to form the offered transaction terms by the financial institution for the transaction including a rate of exchange between the first and second currencies,

-is arranged to inform the personal computer (10) of the offered transaction terms, to receive acceptance of the offered transaction terms from the personal computer (10), to automatically compare said accepted offer against a credit limit for said user and automatically permit release of said accepted transaction if said accepted offer is less than said credit limit and to release automatically the accepted transaction terms for execution of the transaction upon receiving the acceptance, and

- is arranged to limit the offered transaction terms to a specific time period, within the range of 5-15 seconds."

X. Claim 1 of the second auxiliary request differs from the first auxiliary request mainly by the FX trade server additionally being arranged to

- "store a time stamped copy of said base quote with a unique reference number in a database", and

- "look up and match the accepted trade against the base quote previously stored in its data base".

XI. The appellants requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of claims 1 to 24 filed at the oral proceedings (main request) or, alternatively, on the basis of claims 1 to 22 (auxiliary requests 1 and 2) filed as main and auxiliary requests with letter dated 20 December 2006.

XII. At the end of the oral proceedings the Board announced its decision.

Reasons for the Decision

The main request

1. The invention

1.1 Claim 1 is directed to a system for performing automated financial transactions. Several features in the claim are of a financial character and together constitute a foreign exchange (FX) transaction. The main steps of the transaction, as seen from a bank's point of view, are the following:

- providing to a customer a plurality of currencies to be used in the transaction,

- receiving from the customer first and second currencies chosen from the provided currencies as well as the desired characteristics of the transaction, including a desired transaction amount,

- determining the terms to be offered, including a rate of exchange between the first and second currencies,

- informing the customer of the transaction terms and receiving his acceptance within a specific time period, and

- releasing the accepted transaction terms for execution.

1.2 The remaining features specify in particular that the transaction is automated and that the system comprises a personal computer, a message router and a plurality of servers performing different tasks. The actual exchange transaction is performed by an "FX trade server". A "security server" takes care of authorizations, and a "rate server" provides the currency data.

2. The technical problem

The Board agrees with the examining division that the invention should be regarded as an automation of financial transactions using a well-known server-client architecture. The wish to be able to perform an FX transaction in a less labour-intensive way than previously possible (cf the description, p.3, l.24) is a non-technical constraint which, according to decision T 641/00 - Two identities/COMVIK (OJ EPO 2003,352), may appear in the formulation of the problem as part of the framework of the technical problem that is to be solved. The technical problem is thus, as the examining division correctly concluded, how to adapt a client-server system to make it perform the desired automated transactions. In order to solve this problem the skilled person (a computer systems engineer) would investigate what kind of client-server architecture might be suitable in the circumstances.

3. The prior art

D2 describes an apparatus for processing financial transactions (such as payments or exchange rate queries; p.1, l.1-8), in which users at remote work stations (microcomputers, p.9, l.8) are connected to a system of servers within a bank (p.5, l.15-27). The servers are organized as a "control unit" and a "delivery unit" (fig.1-3,4a), each containing a router (40,50). The delivery unit is connected to a bank database system (2) containing real-time financial data such as commodity prices and deposit rates (p.5, l.3-14). Communications from the users are routed to the appropriate server for processing. The types of server include payment servers (48,56) and transaction verifying servers (46,54). The processing is distributed between servers of the same type in the control unit and the delivery unit (p.9, l.16-23).

4. Inventive step

4.1 The skilled person, having been informed by a banker of the need to automate FX transactions, learns from D2 that suitable client-server architectures involve specialized servers. For example, in D2 a transaction verifying server is responsible for security and for ensuring that tolerance values are not exceeded (p.11, top). It was therefore obvious to assign the various tasks to be performed in a transaction to different servers. Moreover, a single server could hardly be expected always to cope with the entire processing. The particular server assignments set out in claim 1 are not described as being based on any technical considerations which might involve an inventive step, nor can the Board see that this is the case. The servers merely perform the tasks which FX transactions are known to involve. Obviously as many tasks as possible should be automated.

4.2 The appellants have argued that the configuration in D2 involves not one but two routers and not one but two central units (the control unit and the delivery unit). The Board notes that claim 1 is not restricted to exactly one router or exactly one server of each kind, so that this difference in fact does not exist. But even if it did there would be no inventive step involved in adapting the size of a server system to the expected workload.

4.3 The Board thus concludes that the system of claim 1 is a straightforward adaptation of a system for performing financial transactions involving FX transactions. Thus, it does not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC).

The first auxiliary request

5. Additional features

Claim 1 of the first auxiliary request differs from the main request mainly in that:

- the rate server provides a base quote for the transaction to the FX trade server,

- the FX trade server adds a spread to the base quote,

- an accepted offer is compared against a credit limit for the customer, and

- the time period during which the transaction terms are offered is within the range of 5 to 15 seconds.

6. Inventive step

6.1 The steps of adding a spread to a base quote, comparing an offer against a credit limit and offering transaction terms for a limited period are all performed for financial or security reasons. They merely add to the non-technical framework of the technical problem (cf point 2 above). The task of the systems engineer was mainly to decide which server was most suitable to perform each step. Again, the Board cannot see that the distribution of tasks as defined in claim 1 is based on inventive technical considerations.

6.2 The appellants have argued that setting the time period in which transaction terms are offered to between 5 and 15 seconds involves an inventive step. There is however no indication in the application that the determination of the length of this interval is based on technical considerations. It rather appears that since exchange rates may vary quickly it will be necessary for business reasons to impose a strict time limit on the offer. The optimal time period would thus be selected by a banker, and the systems engineer's task was again merely to implement that limit on the system.

6.3 Thus, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the first auxiliary request does not involve an inventive step either (Article 56 EPC).

The second auxiliary request

7. Additional features

Claim 1 of the second auxiliary request adds to the first auxiliary request the features that the FX trade server

- stores a time stamped copy of the base quote with a unique reference number in its database, and

- looks up and matches the accepted trade against the base quote previously stored in its data base.

8. Inventive step

As far as the time stamped copy merely serves to define a starting point for the limited time period it is a trivial feature. But the copy, together with the reference number, is also involved in the matching and verification of data. Such verification can in certain circumstances be technical. If, for example, data are transmitted over a noisy communication channel it would normally be up to the technically skilled person to devise a way to verify received data. In the present case, however, nothing in the description suggests that technical considerations have played any role for adding the means for matching an accepted trade against a base quote previously stored in the server. Thus, this feature has not been disclosed as solving a technical problem and therefore cannot contribute to an inventive step. It follows that also the system of claim 1 according to the second auxiliary request lacks an inventive step (Article 56 EPC).

ORDER

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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