Anthony Fuga is a Partner in Holland & Knight's Chicago office
NetSoc filed suit against several online dating platforms, alleging infringement of its patent entitled "Method and System for Establishing and Using a Social Network to Facilitate People in Life Issues." The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the patent claims were directed to an ineligible abstract idea.
The Northern District of Texas, in a concise opinion, found that the asserted patent claims failed both steps of the Alice inquiry. The court noted that patent eligibility may be determined at the Rule 12 stage only when there are no factual allegations that, taken as true, prevent resolving the question as a matter of law. That said, "what ultimately matters is the focus of the claims," which was:
- Maintaining a list of participants;
- Presenting a user with a list of other participants based on selection criteria;
- Allowing the user to have limited contact with chosen participants; and
- Updating the rating of a participant based on tracked response times.
The court found these steps to be "predicated on presenting results of data collection and analysis – something that the Federal Circuit has explicitly said resides squarely in the realm of abstract ideas."
At step two of the Alice inquiry, the court held that the patent requires "no sort of specified field or specialized component" to reach the desired result. Instead, NetSoc made no suggestion that its system "for collecting participant data, analyzing it, and presenting it to the users requires anything other than conventional computer hardware."
In the end, the court found the asserted claims to be analogous the patent claims at issue in Electric Power; the claims did not require anything other than off-the-shelf, conventional computer, network, and display technology for gathering, sending, and presenting information. The court, accordingly, granted the defendants' motion and dismissed NetSoc's claims with prejudice.
Claim 1 of the asserted patent reads:
1. A method for establishing a social network, the method being implemented on a network computer system and comprising:
maintaining a list comprising a plurality of participants, wherein each participant in the plurality of participants corresponds to one or more individuals, wherein the list also includes information associated with at least one of each participant or the one or more individuals that correspond to each participant;
presenting a user with an interface from which the user makes a selection of a category from a plurality of categories;
in response to receiving the selection of the category by the user,
displaying, for the user, some of the information associated with each of multiple participants from the plurality of participants which match the selection of the category by the user, while shielding contact information associated with each of the multiple participants;
wherein displaying some of the information associated with each of the multiple participants is based at least in part on a rating of individual participants in the plurality of participants;
enabling the user to send an inquiry message to one or more of the multiple participants, while shielding the contact information from the user, the contact information including any messaging identifier that is associated with each of the one or more participants;
tracking a response time of each of the one or more participants who received the message from the user; and
updating the rating associated with each of the one or more participants based at least in part on the tracked response time.
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