Where usually method claims are rejected for being excluded from patentability, this case is interesting because it relates to a product claim.
The invention relates to a slot machine system for wagering based on financial market indicators, allowing a user to play a betting game by placing a bet on a spin of reels of that slot machine.
The idea itself of placing a bet on a spin of reels of a slot machine concerns a game rule; which is per se excluded from patentability. But beyond that “idea”, there is a product claim which comprises a controller (then likely a computer program).
The controller is claimed to be operable to determine a first value for a first reel of the slot machine based at least in part upon the value of a digit of a first financial market indicator […].
As disclosed by the invention, one of the objects of the invention is to increase player appeal by providing a new playing experience to the user, not playing a conventional slot machine game but one which involves betting on a digit of a financial market indicator at a point of time in the future he determines by placing his bet.
But increasing a player appeal or providing a new playing experience is not considered to be a technical problem before the EPO.
Even specifying, when the player places his bet, the period of time used to determine the appropriate financial market indicator or the relevant financial market indices, leads to bet against a financial market indicator at a time in the future that the player chooses via the intermediary of a (simulated) spin reel of a slot machine.
According to the EPO, this constitutes a new betting scheme or game; and inventive step can reside only in the way these betting rules are implemented.
In this case, determining a specified digit of the selected financial market indicator at expiry of a chosen period of time and then displaying the value on the spin reel is considered to be obvious, being a direct and inevitable consequence of the betting game rule.
The Board considers that the fact that this system may be less susceptible to tampering than a slot machine system using a random number generator to generate the spin reel numbers is immaterial. This effect can neither form the basis for formulating the objective technical problem addressed by the invention, nor does it represent a further technical effect.
However ingenious this gaming idea may be, it cannot contribute to inventive step.
Addressing the problem of tampering in random number generators in an inherently technical way - for example by modifying its mechanism to be less susceptible to tampering could have led to a positive opinion.
The gaming idea is ingenious (the drafting was clever!) but the problem is not technical. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
Drafting a method claim as a product claim is of no effect on exclusion of patentability when the features of both claim categories are identical.