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Case Law of the Boards of Appeal

 
 
2.5.1 Methods for doing business

In accordance with Art. 52(2)(c) EPC, in particular methods for doing business shall not be regarded inventions within the meaning of Art. 52(1) EPC. According to Art. 52(3) EPC the patentability of such methods shall only be excluded to the extent that the application, and indeed the claimed subject-matter as this defines the matter for which protection is sought, relates to methods for doing business as such. However, where the claimed method involves technical means, it does not relate to a method for doing business as such and its patentability is therefore not excluded (see also T 258/03, OJ 2004, 575).

Pure business methods as such are not patentable (Art. 52(2) and (3) EPC 1973). Methods only involving economic concepts and practices of doing business are not inventions within the meaning of Art. 52(1) EPC 1973. A feature of a method which concerns the use of technical means for a purely non-technical purpose and/or for processing purely non-technical information does not necessarily confer a technical character on such a method (see e.g. T 931/95, OJ 2001, 441).

In T 931/95 (OJ 2001, 441) the board addressed the patentability of inventions relating to business methods. Claim 1 of the main request was directed to a method for controlling a pension benefits program by administering at least one subscriber employer account. The board stated that if the method was technical or, in other words, had a technical character, it still might be a method for doing business, but not a method for doing business as such. However, all the features of claim 1, i.e. the individual steps defining the claimed method, were steps of processing and producing information having purely administrative, actuarial and/or financial character. Processing and producing such information were typical steps of business and economic methods. Thus the invention as claimed did not go beyond a method of doing business as such and was excluded from patentability under Art. 52(2)(c) EPC 1973 in conjunction with Art. 52(3) EPC 1973.

In T 854/90 (OJ 1993, 669), a computer manufacturer applied to patent a method for operating an electronic self-service machine (e.g. cash dispenser) which could be accessed using any machine-readable card. A prospective user first had to insert such a card to enable its identification data to be stored; he then keyed in credit information about himself onto an "electronic application form", thereby permitting a decision to be taken on whether to authorise him as a user. Once authorised, he could access the system using that same card. The board ruled that this was not patentable - parts of the method claimed were merely instructions for using the machine, and although technical components were used, this did not alter the fact that what was being claimed was a method for doing business as such. The board held that a claim which, when taken as a whole, is essentially a business operation, does not have a technical character and is not a claim to a patentable invention within the meaning of Art. 52(1) EPC 1973, even though the claimed method includes steps which include a technical component. The true nature of the claimed subject-matter remains the same, even though some technical means are used to perform it.

A method of doing business is excluded from patentability even where it implies the possibility of making use of unspecified technical means or has practical utility (T 388/04).

In T 388/04 (OJ 2007, 16) the board considered that transmitting information as specified in the claim, even if performing the transmission might involve the use of technical means, does not go beyond a business activity as such. If the contrary were true, no method for doing business that implicitly could make use of a functionality offered by technical means would be excluded from patentability, which, in the view of the board, could not be what is intended by Art. 52(2) and (3) EPC 1973. The board held that subject-matter or activities that are excluded from patentability under Art. 52(2) and (3) EPC 1973 remain so even where they imply the possibility of making use of unspecified technical means.

In T 384/07 the method claimed included features corresponding to technical means for the technical implementation of the business scheme, such as a data processing terminal connected to a network of data processing terminals etc. The board held that the method did not constitute a method for doing business as such, and, therefore, was not excluded from patentability in accordance with Art. 52(2) and (3) EPC 1973.