Court Rules for Meta in News Feed Patent Case
October 10th, 2023
The Federal Circuit has affirmed a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruling that a patent Meta was accused of infringing covered an abstract idea and was thus not eligible for patenting.
USC IP Partnership, L.P. owns a patent entitled “System and Method for Intent Data Processing” that relates to a method for predicting which webpages to recommend to a web visitor based on inferences of the visitor’s “intent.”
USC sued Facebook (which became Meta), asserting that its “News Feed” feature infringed claims 1-17 of the patent.
Meta moved for summary judgment of invalidity of all the asserted claims on the ground that they are ineligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101, which states:
Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.
The district court granted the motion, and the Federal Circuit affirmed.
As the court noted, foundational questions under § 101 are questions of fact and include
whether a claim element or combination of elements is well-understood, routine, and conventional to a skilled artisan in the relevant field.
Abstract ideas are not eligible for patenting, said the court, for abstract ideas are part of the “basic tools of scientific and technological work.”
Courts have attempted (and often struggled) to clarify the boundary between an unpatentable idea and the patent-eligible application of the idea.
The US Supreme Court’s 2014 Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l decision proposed a two-step analysis:
The first step is to determine whether the patent claim is directed to an ineligible category, such as an abstract idea, and if so, the second step is to determine whether there is “an inventive concept . . . sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the ineligible concept itself.”
The patent at issue claims a method for determining a visitor's intent to a webpage and using that intent to select and recommend web pages to the visitor.
The patent claims reference an “intent engine”: “a software component for collecting and analyzing intent data from visitors.”
The district court found that the patent claims “are directed to the abstract idea of ‘collecting, analyzing and using intent data.’”
The district court also found that the “intent engine” “is a functional ‘black box’ implemented using standard cloud platforms from well-known vendors.”
The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that using computers to predict visitors' intent is insufficient to render the idea non-abstract.
The Federal Circuit also agreed with the district court that.
[n]othing in the claims, understood in light of the specification, requires anything other than off-the-shelf, conventional computer, network, and display technology for gathering, sending, and presenting the desired information.
The Federal Circuit also noted that the district court properly rejected the USC expert witness’s “conclusory assertion that the claims present a ‘unique and novel way of delivering webpages to consumers that was not previously demonstrated in the prior art.’”