Novelty and Non-Obviousness at the Bank?

Readers may have discovered that advertisements for Bank of America’s Keep the Change program carry a patent pending notice. Their website promotion has one, and so does a radio ad I heard last night. My first reaction was surprise, as saving leftover change is something a lot of people do. Is B of A going to claim royalties the next time I save my change?

A quick search at the patent office website finds the patent application (patent app. 20070033134). It claims rights to:

“A computer implemented method of processing a financial transaction executed by first person includes determining an automatic savings amount from the financial transaction by rounding up the amount of the financial transaction to the nearest dollar. The method further includes debiting the calculated savings amount from an account of the first person and crediting the savings amount to an account of a second person.”

Of course, we don’t know what will happen to this application as it goes through examination, and I haven’t studied its details. Nevertheless, this does not strike me as novel or non-obvious. Indeed, B of A has gotten sued by Every Penny Counts for infringing the so-called “Rounder Patent” (no. 6,112,191), which claims rights in a system for consumer payors to save and donate whenever they use a credit or debit card.

EPC’s suit may demonstrate that B of A’s system is neither novel nor non-obvious. But I’m equally curious how EPC’s patent will hold up in litigation. I happened to stumble across yet another similar, earlier, patent (no. 6,105,865) which claims rights in systems that include debit cards, the calculation of rebates, and depositing of rebates to the cardholder’s trust account. I’m guessing there are lots of other patents and denied patent applications that come close to B or A’s Keep the Change program.

Granted, there is probably case law supporting the existence of patents on schemes like Keep the Change. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder and hope that KSR v. Teleflex will encourage courts to invalidate at least some of them. Otherwise, I worry that patents on basic financial strategies will eventually drive up the cost saving.

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