Software patents in Europe: Marketing campaigns are not patentable

von Bastian Best

The decision T 0983/11 of 17 September 2014 is a good reminder that the EPO does not grant patents on pure business methods, such as marketing campaigns.

The patent application at stake concerned an intelligent mail system to coordinate direct mail with other marketing channels. The invention concerns the calculation of dates on which people should be contacted for marketing purposes. The idea is to predict when marketing mail pieces will arrive at recipients’ homes, and to use those dates to determine an optimal date on which the recipients should be contacted using a further marketing channel (e.g. telephone, e-mail, television, radio).

The overall goal is to maximise the chances of a successful marketing campaign. The educated reader will already guess that this hardly qualifies as a technical problem at the EPO…

Fig. 1 of EP 1 739 614 A2

This is what the board of appeal said:

From the reasons

2.1 It is common ground that the subject-matter of claim 1 contains a mixture of technical and non-technical features, and that the approach to be applied for assessing inventive step is the “COMVIK” approach, in which non-technical features may be part of the objective technical problem, for example as a non-technical requirement specification given to the technically skilled person implementing the invention (T 641/00 – “Two identities/COMVIK”, OJ EPO 2003, 352). This approach is also used in the decision cited by the appellant (T 844/09).

2.2 The point of dispute is the identification of the non-technical features, and in particular whether the calculation of predicted arrival dates, by storing, generating, and manipulating various probability and prediction curves, is technical.

2 ...

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