Judge Gregory M. Sleet recently found that four patents relating to the matchmaking of participants in internet chat rooms claimed unpatentable subject matter under § 101. Jedi Techs., Inc. v. Spark Networks, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 16-1055-GMS (D. Del. Aug. 3, 2017). The Court found that the lead patent rested upon “the notion of human compatibility and matchmaking, where an individual learns about the personalities and interests of two different individuals and, based upon a certain criteria, determines whether the individuals are compatible.” This, the Court found, was an abstract idea under Alice, despite the plaintiff’s insistence that “the articulation of the abstract idea fails to account for specific requirements of the independent and dependent claims” — i.e. claimed “automatically prompting,” “collecting pre-existing data that is publicly available,” and “processing user data” steps. The Court found that these steps were routine data gathering or output steps that could not save the patent claims from being found an abstract idea. As Judge Sleet explained, “[e]ven if matchmakers traditionally have not relied on the Internet, the mere application of modern technology to the field of ‘invention’ does not somehow transform or otherwise change the character of the abstract idea.”
Under the second prong of Alice, Judge Sleet found no inventive concept sufficient to render the patent claims patent-eligible. As the Court explained, “the generic computer system contemplated by the patent could be replaced with a human matchmaker who compares two individuals based on submitted or publicly available information, and then sends both chatters a message which prompts their meeting. . . . While the use of a machine might improve the efficiency of the process, this improvement is not the ‘significantly more’ contemplated by Alice that ‘ensure[s] that the patent in practice’ truly adds to the invention.
The Court next found that three other asserted patents, which built upon the lead patent, merely used conventional technology to do additional tasks related to the chat room matchmaking idea that a human otherwise could do. These patents, like the lead patent, were found to claim unpatentable subject matter.
Judge Sleet denied the defendants’ request for attorneys’ fees under § 285, explaining that “the mere fact that one side’s arguments prevailed over its opponent’s does not make a § 285 award appropriate. Furthermore, the Alice analysis is not straightforward, particularly when it comes to software patents such as the patents at issue.”