The Federal Circuit Tells Trinity That Its Poll-Based Network Patents Are Invalid
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  • The Federal Circuit Tells Trinity That Its Poll-Based Network Patents Are Invalid

    On July 14, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “Federal Circuit”) issued an opinion, affirming the decision of the United States District Court for the Central District of California (the “district court” or “Central District of California”) that U.S. Patent Nos. 9,087,321 (the “’321 patent”) and 10,936,685 (the “’685 patent”), (collectively, the “asserted patents”) are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  Trinity Info Media, LLC v. Covalent, Inc., No. 2022-1308, 2023 WL 4536366 (Fed. Cir. July 14, 2023).

    Trinity Info Media, LLC (“Trinity”) sued Covalent, Inc. (“Covalent”) in the Central District of California, alleging patent infringement of the ’321 and ’685 patents.  The ’321 patent is directed to a poll-based networking system that connects users based on similarities determined through poll answering and provides real-time results to users.  The ’685 patent is related to the ’321 patent; however, the ’685 patent contains additional disclosures about performing those matches on a hand-held device and reviewing the matches via swiping.  Trinity asserted claims 1–3, 8, and 20 of the ’321 patent and claims 2, 3, 12–14, 16, 17, 20–22, 24, and 25 of the ’685 patent (collectively, the “asserted claims”).

    At the district court, Covalent filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the asserted claims are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101.  The district court granted the motion, finding that the asserted claims are directed to the abstract idea of “matching users who gave corresponding answers to a question” and did not contain an inventive concept.

    On appeal, as an initial matter, Trinity argued that the district court improperly neglected to conduct claim construction and fact discovery before analyzing the asserted claims under § 101.  The Federal Circuit disagreed, finding that Trinity failed to propose a specific claim construction or to identify specific facts that needed to be developed and to explain why those circumstances must be resolved before the claims can be understood for § 101 purposes.  See Cleveland Clinic Found. v. True Health Diagnostics LLC, 859 F.3d 1352, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2017).  The Federal Circuit then proceeded to use the Alice/Mayo Two-Step Test to analyze the district court’s ruling on the § 101 motion.

    Under Alice/Mayo Step One, which analyzes whether a claim is directed to a patent-eligible concept, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court ruling that the asserted claims are directed to an abstract idea, i.e., matching based on questioning.  The Federal Circuit determined that the asserted independent claims of the ’321 patent require:  (1) receiving user information; (2) providing a polling question; (3) receiving and storing an answer; (4) comparing that answer to generate a “likelihood of match” with other users; and (5) displaying certain user profiles based on that likelihood.  The Federal Circuit also determined that the asserted independent claims of the ’685 patent generally require many of the same steps, additionally including only the review of matches using swiping and the use of a “hand-held device.”

    The Federal Circuit held that the asserted independent claims of the asserted patents are focused on “collecting information, analyzing it, and displaying certain results,” which places them in the “familiar class of claims ‘directed to’ a patent-ineligible concept.”  Elec. Power Grp., LLC v. Alstom S.A., 830 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 2016).  The Federal Circuit stated that a human mind could review people’s answers to questions and identify matches based on those answers, and found nothing in the asserted dependent claims that changes the focus of the idea.  It then applied Alice/Mayo Step Two.

    Under Alice/Mayo Step Two, which analyzes whether additional elements transform the nature of the claim into a patent-eligible application, the Federal Circuit was unpersuaded by the argument that the asserted claims include an inventive concept because they use multiple processors, match servers, unique identifications, and/or a match aggregator.  The Federal Circuit found that the asserted claims merely recite “generic features” or “routine functions” to implement the underlying abstract idea.

    The Federal Circuit was also unpersuaded by the argument that the asserted claims include an inventive concept because they recite steps performed in a non-traditional system that can rapidly connect multiple users using progressive polling that compares answers in real time based on their unique identification (ID).  The Federal Circuit found those allegations conclusory.  See Simio, LLC v. FlexSim Software Prods., Inc., 983 F.3d 1353, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (“We disregard conclusory statements when evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).”).  Moreover, the Federal Circuit found that, at best, those statements merely reflect an improved speed inherent when accomplishing an abstract idea using a computer.  See Customedia Techs., LLC v. Dish Network Corp., 951 F.3d 1359, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (“[C]laiming the improved speed or efficiency inherent with applying the abstract idea on a computer [is] insufficient to render the claims patent eligible as an improvement to computer functionality.”  (Citation omitted) (cleaned up)).

    The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the asserted claims are patent-ineligible under § 101.

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