This decision concerns a system for prediciting a travel time. However, the Board did not grant a patent, because the application allegedly merely provides a more accurate/faster prediction of a travel time which is a non-technical activity. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2367/22 (Travel process prediction/THE AQUA ENTERPRISE COMPANY) of September 12, 2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Statistical calculations might provide accurate/reliable prediction results. This is, however, an inherent property of the calculations themselves and not a result of a particular implementation or the underlying technical system.

Providing an improved method for predicting a non-technical activity does not provide a technial effect.

The invention

The invention concerns a system for more accurately predicting a travel time (“travel process”), by including predictions of the time spent waiting at various points during the trip, such as in the departure or arrival hall at an airport.

The prediction relies on historical data, specifically the “passage time”, which denotes instances when travelers pass through different checkpoints at the airport, along with corresponding “transportation specifying” (e.g. flight) and “situation” (e.g. weather) information – see Figure 8. It employs regression analysis along with statistical tests for means and variances.

The prediction results are, for example, an estimated time for a traveler to reach an arrival gate at the airport (“estimate value of passage time”), the time elapsed between passage points or an estimated duration between the completion of boarding and passage at a specific passage point. Moreover, based on the outcome of statistical tests, the user is provided with advice (“explanatory text” in claim 1 of auxiliary request 9), such as “Make travel plan with sufficient time to spare” (see Figure 19, “ADVICE T”).

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

Claim 1 (Main Request): 

A travel process prediction system predicting a travel process of a travel object traveling with transportation repeatedly operated at specific time, characterized by comprising:

  1. a means for specifying passage time at which a travel object actually passes through each of a plurality of passage points at a departure/arrival facility of transportation;
  2. a means for acquiring transportation specifying information specifying transportation used by the travel object;
  3. a means for acquiring situation information indicating a situation in which the travel object uses the transportation;
  4. a means for storing passage time at each passage point, transportation specifying information and situation information, in an associated manner for each of a plurality of travel objects;
  5. a means for extracting, from the means, a plurality of combinations of passage time concerning a specific passage point and other information associated with the passage time; and
  6. a means for calculating, based on the extracted plurality of combinations, an estimate value of passage time at which a travel object passes through a specific passage point under a specific condition by conducting a regression analysis for obtaining a relationship between the passage time and said other information, or a calculation of a mean or variance of the passage time.

Is it technical?

The appellant argued that the claim, defining a travel time prediction system, incorporates technical features, including a mathematical algorithm for predicting travel time through regression analysis and probability density functions. Moreover, the claimed system is highlighted for its ability to collect comprehensive data, including weather information, employing multivariate data sets for regression analysis.

The appellant further argued that this detailed data analysis contributes to the technical character of the invention, making it eligible for patent protection. For example, the predicted outcomes could be utilized to optimize parts of the transportation process, enhancing efficiency and reducing energy consumption.

However, the Board rejected these arguments, referencing a prior case (T 1148/18) that asserted predicting arrival or passage times based on historical data lacks a technical character.

The Board emphasized that tasks associated with statistical calculations for travel prediction are within the purview of a person skilled in statistics and travel planning, rather than a technically skilled individual. The selection of parameters is thus deemed non-technical, with no reflection in the broadest interpretation of the claim.

Despite the appellant’s emphasis on technical details in the description, the Board concluded that the claimed means are inherent in any general-purpose computer and, thus, the computer implementation is considered obvious. Additionally, the Board underscored that the claimed prediction method lacks more specific features (e.g., a feedback mechanism to control the transportation system), which could distinguish it from the prior art. These features going beyond a general-purpose computer, such as error-handling procedures, were considered immaterial to the inventive step evaluation as they were not part of claim 1.

Consequently, the Board ruled that claim 1 of the Main Request lack an inventive step under Article 56 EPC.