Sound View Innovations, LLC v. Facebook, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding MOTION to Dismiss For Lack Of Patentable Subject Matter Pursuant To 35 U.S.C. § 101 (D.I. 10 ). Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 8/30/2016. (nms)
IN THE-UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
SOUND VIEW INNOVATIONS, LLC,
John C. Phillips, Jr., Esq., Megan C. Haney, Esq., PHILLIPS, GOLDMAN, MCLAUGHLIN &
HALL, P.A., Wilmington, DE; Alan S. Kellman, Esq. (argued), Tamir Paclcin, Esq., Edward B.
Geist, Esq., Tom BenGera, Esq., DESMARAIS LLP, New York, NY; attorneys for Plaintiff.
Jack B. Blumenfeld, Esq., Karen Jacobs, Esq., MORRIS, NICHOLS, ARSHT & TUNNELL
LLP, Wilmington,, DE; Heidi Keefe, Esq. (argued), Sarah Whitney, Esq., Elizabeth Stameshkin,
Esq., COOLEY LLP, Palo Alto, CA; Phillip E. Morton, Esq., COOLEY LLP, Washington, DC,
attorneys for Defendant.
Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Patentable
Subject Matter Pursuantto 35 U.S.C. § 101. (D.I. 10). The matter has been fully briefed. (D.I.
11, 14, 17). The Court heard oral argument on July 1, 2016. (D.I. 34). For the reasons stated
below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.
Plaintiff Sound View Innovations, LLC filed this patent infringement action against
Defendant Facebook, Inc. on February 29, 2016. (D.I. 1). Sound View alleges that Facebook
infringes U.S. Patent Nos. 5,991,845; 6,125,371; 6,732,181; 7,366,786; 7,412,486; 8,135,860;
and 8,095,593 ("the '593 patent"). (Id.). The asserted claims of the '593 patent are claims 1, 5,
9, 13, 14, and 15. (Id. at31). On April 29, 2016, Facebook filed the instant motion to dismiss
Count Six of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that
the '593 patent claims patent-ineligible subject matter. (D.I. 10).
The '593 patent is entitled "Method for Managing Electronic Information, the Related
User Terminal and the Related Information Source." ('593 patent, (54)). The '593 patent
describes managing electronic "community interest" or "community information preference"
information. (Id. at (57); see also D.I. 11 at 6; D.I. 14 at 5). Employing (1) the information
preferences of an individual user, (2) the information preferences of other users in pre-defined
relationships to that user, and (3) at least one decision rule for each user, the claimed invention
distributes electronic information from information sources to the individual user's terminal.
· ('593 patent, 2:24-32, 6:45-7:2, 7:40--41, 8:13--40, 8:59-61, 8:62-10:6, 10:7-8).
Claim 1 of the '593 patent reads:
A method for managing electronic information, said electronic information being
forwarded froni at least one electronic information source (IS) of a plurality of
electronic information sources (IS ... ISx) towards a terminal of a corresponding
first user of a plurality of terminals of corresponding users (Ul ... Ux) through a
communications network, (CN) said method comprising the steps of:
a. at least one electronic information source of said plurality of electronic
information sources (IS . . . ISx) sending said electronic information
towards said terminal of said first user;
b. the terminal of said first user (UI) and terminals of users related to said first
user (U2, Ux) sending electronic information preferences towards a
community interest management module (CIMM), said users being related
to said first user based on_pre-defined relationships; and
c. said community interest management module (CIMM) determining
community information preferences for said first user based on said
information preferences of said first user and information preferences of
said users related to said first user, sent towards said community interest
management module (CIMM) and based on at least one decision rule
determining whether or not to apply said information preferences in said
community information preferences of said first user.
(Id. at 6:45-7:2). Independent claims 9 and 14 claim computer components-a "Community
interest management module" and an "Electronic information source," respectively-configured
to implement the method of claim I. (Id. at 8:13-40, 8:62-10:6).
A. Motion to Disniiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
In reviewing a motion to dismiss.pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the
complaint's factual allegations as true. See Bell At!. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56
(2007). Rule 8(a) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief." Id. at 555. The factual allegations do not have to be detailed, but they must
provide more than labels, conclusions, or a "formulaic recitation" of the claim elements. Id.
("Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on
the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).").
Moreover, there must be sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The facial plausibility standard is satisfied when the
complaint's factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. ("Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely
consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of entitlement to relief." (internal quotation marks omitted)). "In deciding a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint,
matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims
are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010); see
also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). "A court
may also take judicial notice of the prosecution histories, which are 'public records.'" Genetic
Techs. Ltd. v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 72 F. Supp. 3d 521, 526 (D. Del. 2014), aff'd sub nom.
Genetic Techs. Ltd. v. Merial L.L.C., 818 F.3d 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (citing HockersonHalberstadt, Inc. v. Avia Group Int'!, Inc., 222 F.3d 951, 957 (Fed. Cir. 2000); Lum v. Bank of
Am., 361F.3d217, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004)).
B. Patent-Eligible Subject Matter
Section 101 of the Patent Act defines patent-eligible subject matter. It provides:
"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." 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Supreme Court
has recognized an implicit exception for three categories of subject matter not eligible for patent
protection: laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS
Bank Int'/, 134 S. Ct. 2347, 2354 (2014). The purpose of these carve outs is to avoid preemption
of the "basic tools of scientific and technological work." Mayo Collaborative Servs. v.
Prometheus Labs., Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1289, 1293 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); Alice
Corp., 134 S. Ct. at 2354. Still, "a process is not unpatentable simply because it contains a law
of nature or a mathematical algorithm," as "an application of a law of nature or mathematical
formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection~" Mayo
Collaborative Servs., 132 S. Ct. at 1293-94 (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted).
In Alice, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the framework laid out in Mayo for
distinguishing "patents that claim laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas from
those that claim patent-eligible applications of those concepts." 134 S. Ct. at 2355. Under the
first step of the Alice framework, the court must determine whether the claims are directed to a
patent-ineligible concept. Id. "The dispositive inquiry is whether the concept to which a claim is
drawn has 'no particular concrete or tangible form."' Morsa v. Facebook, Inc., 77 F. Supp. 3d
1007, 1014 (C.D. Cal. 2014) (quoting Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709, 715 (Fed.
Cir. 2014), cert. denied sub nom. Ultramercial, LLC v. WildTangent, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2907
(2015)), aff'd, 622 F. App'x 915 (Fed. Cir. 2015); see also Accenture Global Servs., GmbH v.
Guidewire Software, Inc., 728 F.3d 1336, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2013) ("[T]he court must first identify
and define whatever fundamental concept appears wrapped up in the claim." (internal quotation
marks omitted)). To evaluate whether an invention is directed to an "abstract idea," courts
"compare claims at issue to those claims already found to be directed to an abstract idea in
previous cases." Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327, 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2016).
"[F]undamental economic and conventional business practices are often found to be abstract
ideas, even if performed on a computer." Id. at 1335. Not "all improvements in compU:terrelated technology are inherently abstract," however. Id. Nor are "claims directed to software,
as opposed to hardware, ... inherently abstract and therefore only properly analyzed at the
second step of the Alice analysis." Id. Thus, in analyzing claims directed to computer-related
technology under the first step of the Alice framework, a relevant question is "whether the focus
of the claims is on the specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities ... or, instead, on
a process that qualifies as an 'abstract idea' for which computers are invoked merely as a tool."
Id. at 1335-36.
If the court concludes that the claims are drawn to a patent-ineligible concept underthe
first step of the Alice framework, it must next look to "the elements of each claim both
individually and as an 'ordered combination,"' id. at 1334, to see ifthere is an '"inventive
concept'-i.e., an element or combination of elements that is sufficient to ensure that the patent
in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the ineligible concept hself." Alice
Corp., 134 S. Ct. at 2355 (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). "[T]he prohibition
against patenting abstract ideas cannot be circumvented by attempting to limit the use of the
formula to a particular technological environment or adding insignificant postsolution activity."
Bilski v. Kappas, 561 U.S. 593, 610-11 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Similarly,
"[s]imply appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality, ... [i]s not
enough t~ supply an inventive concept." Alice Corp., 134 S. Ct. at 2357 (internal quotation
marks and emphasis omitted). Further, "the mere recitation of a generic computer cannot
-transform a patent-ineligible abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention." Id. at 2358.
Patent eligibility under § 101 is a question of law suitable for resolution on a motion to
dismiss. See OPI Techs., Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 788 F.3d 1359, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2015);
Content Extraction & Transmission LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank Nat'! Ass 'n, 776 F.3d 1343, 1346
· (Fed. Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 119 (2015). The Federal Circuit follows regional circuit
law for motions to dismiss. Content Extraction, 776 F.3d at 1346. The Federal Circuit has held
that the district court is not required to individually address claims not asserted or identified by
the non-moving party, so long as the court identifies a representative claim and "all the claims
are substantially similar and linked to the same abstract idea." Id. at 1348.
Sound View and Facebook have not identified any claim construction issues that would .
bear on the§ 101 analysis. (See D.I. 11, 14, 17). Thus, resolution ofFacebook's § 101 motion
regarding the '593 patent is appropriate at this stage in the proceedings.
A. PTAB Rejection of Claims 5 and 6 of the '239 Application
Facebook urges the Court to consider, in deciding this motion, a PTAB decision
regarding the patent eligibility of two· claims of U.S. Patent Application No. 111619,239 (the
'"239 Application"). (D.1. 11 at 13-16; D.I. 17 at 7-8). The '239 Application was co.,.pending at
the PTO with U.S. Patent Application No. 11/619,247, the application that resulted in the '593
patent. (See '593 patent, (21); D.I. 11-2 at 13-14). On October 7, 2010, the PTO provisionally
rejected what would become asserted claim 9 of the '593 patent as patentably indistinct from
claims 5 and 6 of the '239 Application. (D.I. 11-2 at 13-14). On October 12, 2010, the PTO
issued a final rejection of claims 5 and 6 of the '239 Application on the ground that they claimed
patent ineligible subject matter under§ 101. (Id. at 34-35). The '239 applicants appealed the
PTO' s decision to the PTAB, arguing that the recitation of a network and terminals in the
preamble of claim 5 rendered the claims patent eligible. (Id. at 65). On September 9, 2014, the
PTAB affirmed the PTO's rejection of claims 5 and 6 of the '239 Application under§ 101. (Id.
at 83-84). The '239 Application was abandoned on November 24, 2014. (Id. at 89).
Facebook argues that the Court.should consider the PTAB's § 101 decision regarding the
'239 Application because "Plaintiff seeks to assert substantially the same language in the '593
patent against Facebook." (D.I. 11 at 16). The PTO's rejection of claims 5 and 6 of the '239
Application occurred prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Alice and therefore did not
consider the patentability of the claims under the standard applicable to the asserted claims in
this case. (See D.I. 11-2 at 34--35); Alice Corp., 134 S. Ct. at 2347. The PTAB did not apply the
Alice standard in affirming the PTO's rejection. (See D.I. 11-2 at 83-84). Thus, the PTAB
decision has no relevance, even as persuasive authority, to the§ 101 motion under consideration.
B. Alice Step One
Facebook argues that the asserted claims of the '593 patent "are directed to the abstract
idea of managing information and preferences among members of a community." (D.I. 11 at
16). Facebook maintains that the abstract nature of the invention is demonstrated by the patent's
repeated description of the invention as a "method for managing information." (Id.). Facebook
also contends that the invention is abstract because it can be performed mentally or using pen
and paper, for example, by a consumer survey company. (D .I. 17 at 11 n.3; D .I. 17-1; see also
D.I. 11 at 16-17).
Sound View argues that the asserted claims are not directed to an abstract idea. (D.I. 14
at 12). Sound View characterizes the '593 patent as "generally directed to a community interest
management system-for use in a communications network with multiple electronic information
sources and multiple user terminals-that uses information preferences of an individual user as
well as information preferences of other users related to that user based on pre-defined
relationships and also at least one decision rule for each user to determine community
information preferences." (Id. at 13 (citing '593 patent, 1 :33-2:38)). Sound View argues that,
like in Eefish, the claims are not directed to an abstract idea because the "the plain focus of the
claims is on an improvement to computer functionality itself." (Id. at 14 (quoting Eefish, LLC,
822 F.3d at 1336) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Sound View contends that the asserted
claims of the '593 patent "focus on improving electronic information distribution systems" by
solving "problems associated with known computer networking techniques" and by being "able
to transmit more meaningful information from electronic information sources to terminal users in
a computer network." (Id.). Specifically, Sound View argues that the '593 patent improves over
known computer networking techniques, like RSS, which were able to transmit information to a
user terminal only based on the user's preferences. (Id. at 17).
The asserted claims are directed to an abstract idea. Sound View maintains that the
asserted claims "describe the interaction of information sources and user terminals in a computer
network, and the components of the system that are used to identify and transmit more useful
electronic information to user terminals than prior art systems." (Id. at 16). The patent states
that "[a]n object of the present invention is to provide an electronic information management
method ... and a related system ... wherein the electronic information management method is
better suited to the information needs of a user of such a method and related devices." (' 593
patent, 1 :33-37). The patent also states that determining community information preferences
according to the claimed invention enables electronic information sources "to send information
that match the preferences of the first user but also the preferences of the buddies of the first user
in this way provisioning the first user with information that better suit the interest of the first
user." (Id. at 1 :60-63). The patent does not, as Sound View argues, provide
solutions." (See D.l. 14 at 13, 22-23); Electric Power Grp., LLC v. Alstom S.A., 2016 WL
4073318, at *4, *5-6 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 1, 2016) (holding that the claims at issue were directed to
an abstract idea because "the focus of the claims [wa]s not on ... an improvement in computers
as tools, but on certain independently abstract ideas that use computers as tools" and
distinguishing between "ends sought and particular means of achieving them, between desired
results (functions) and particular ways of achieving (performing) them"). Like in In re TL!
Communications LLC Patent Litigation, where "the inventor sought to 'provid[ e] for recording,
administration and archiving of digital images simply, fast and in such a way that the information
therefore maybe easily tracked,"' 823 F.3d 607, 612 (Fed. Cir. 2016), the invention of the '593
patent seeks to make a non-technological improvement to the non-technological problem of
providing a user with information that is better suited to the user. Compare Electric Power Grp.,
LLC, 2016 WL 4073318, at *3 (holding that claims focused "on collecting information,
analyzing it, and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis" were directed to an
abstract idea); Morsa, 77 F. Supp. 3d at 1014 (holding that the claims at issue were directed to
the abstract ideas of "targeting advertisements to certain consumers, and using a bidding system
to determine when and how advertisements will be displayed"); OpenTV, Inc. v. Netflix Inc., 76
F. Supp. 3d 886, 893 (N.D. Cal. 2014) ("The concept of gathering information about one's
intended market and attempting to customize the information then provided is as old as the
saying, 'know your audience.'"); and Tuxis Techs., LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2014 WL
4382446, at *5 (D. Del. Sept. 3, 2014) ("[T]argeted advertising is [a well-known] concept,
insofar as matching consumers with a given product or service 'has been practiced as long as
markets have been in operation."'), with En.fish, LLC, 822 F.3d at 1337, 1339 ("Here, the claims
are not simply directed to any form of storing tabular data, but instead are specifically directed to
a self-referential table for a computer database .... [T]he self-referential table recited in the
claims on appeal is a specific type of data structure designed to improve the way a computer
stores and retrieves data in memory.").
The asserted claims of the '593 patent thus are directed to the concept of offering more
meaningful information to an individual based on his own preferences and the preferences of a
group of people with whom he is in pre-defined relationships. The claimed concept is abstract.
C. Alice Step Two
Facebook argues that the asserted claims of the '593 patent do not provide an inventive
concept sufficient to transform the claimed abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter. (D.I.
11 at 20). Facebook maintains that claim 1 recites a method with three steps: "(1) an
information source sending information to a user; (2) the user sending information preferences to
the community interest manager; and (3) the community interest manager determining
community information preferences." (Id. at 21). Facebook maintains, further, that claims 9 and
14 do not limit the claims to patent-eligible applications of the abstract idea in claim 1 because
they do not employ specific hardware, but instead use purely functional and generic terms to
describe the computer components that perform the abstract method. (Id.). Facebook argues that
the specification also does not disclose specific or innovative hardware. (Id. at 22). Instead, it
discloses user terminals, electronic information sources, and a community interest management
module, which are described in the patent as "generally known in the art." (Id. (citing '593
patent, 3:9-20, 1:13-14)).
· Sound View argues that the '593 patent claims include inventive concepts that render
them patent eligible. (D.I. 14 at 19). Sound View identifies two allegedly inventive concepts in
particular. (See id. at 20-21). First, that the patented invention determines the community
information preferences of a user based on information preferences of that user, information
preferences of other users related to that user, and at least one decision rule. (Id. (citing D.I. 14-2
at 7-8)). Second, that the patented invention employs relationships between users that are
defined by a user, rather than determined based on characteristics of user profiles. (Id. at 21
(citing D.I. 14-3 at 15)). Sound View also argues that the asserted claims of the '593 patent do
not require merely generic computer components because they recite "specific computer
components assembled into a particular architecture to achieve the task at hand." (Id. at 23).
Further, Sound View maintains that the claims "describe how certain computer elements-.for
example, information sources, user terminals, and a community interest management modulefunction so as to solve problems that arose in prior art systems." (Id. at 24).
Neither purported inventive concept that Sound View puts forth supports patent
eligibility. Sound View's reliance on the novelty of (1) providing information to a user based on
information preferences of that user, information preferences of other users related to that user,
and at least one decision rule and (2) employing relationships between users that are defined by a
user is unavailing. That the method is a new means of transmitting information is irrelevant to
the§ 101 analysis. Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 188-89 (1981). Additionally, the inventive
concepts that Sound View proffers are analogous to inventive concepts that courts have held
insufficient to confer patent eligibility on claims directed to an abstract idea. See, e.g., Electric
Power Grp., LLC, 2016 WL 4073318, at *4 ("[M]erely selecting information, by content or
source, for collection, analysis, and display does nothing significant to differentiate a process
from ordinary mental processes [that are patent ineligible]."); Morsa, 77 F. Supp. 3d at 1015-16
(holding that "targeting customers based on demographic criteria; requiring the bid amount to be
'modifiable'; making the advertisements 'searchable'; requiring the user to be the source of the
demographic information; altering the display of the advertisement in various ways; ... using
'negative' criteria to determine not to present an advertisement to a given user[;] ... altering a
given advertisement's display based on its 'performance and/or ... popularity'; requiring the
advertisements to be delivered to users in a specific geographic location or on a specific wireless
device; dictating that the advertisements be delivered via video or audio; and collecting user data
in various ways" were not inventive concepts sufficient to confer patent eligibility). Further,
Sound View's proposed inventive concepts are distinguishable from those under consideration -in
BASCOM Global Internet Services, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, which the Federal Circuit held
were sufficient to confer patent eligibility on claims directed to an abstract idea. 2016 WL
3514158, at *5-6 (Fed. Cir. June 27, 2016). In BASCOM Global, the Federal Circuit held that
"the installation of a filtering tool at a specific location, remote from the end-users, with
customizable filtering features specific to each end user" was an inventive concept sufficient to
confer patent eligibility on claims directed to the abstract idea of "filtering content on the
Internet." Id. at *5, 6. The court explained that, "[b]y taking a prior art filter solution (one-sizefits-all filter at the ISP server) and making it more dynamic and efficient (providing
individualized filtering at the ISP server), the claimed invention represents a software-based
invention that improves the performance of the computer system itself." Id. at *7 (internal
quotation marks and alterations omitted). Here, on the other hand, the claims describe using "a
set of generic computer components," id., to offer more meaningful information to an individual
based on his own preferences and the preferences of a group of people with whom he is in pre- defined relationships.
The claimed computer components do not render the asserted claims patent eligible. The
patent describes a "communications network" according to the "present invention" that
comprises electronic information sources, user terminals, and a community interest management
module. ('593 patent, 2:63-66, 3:9-19). Regarding the communications network that comprises
the components, the patent states that "[a]ny other suitable combination of networks may be
applied as well." (Id. at 3 :25-26). The generic computer components thus do not supply an
inventive concept sufficient to render the claims patent-eligible. See Electric Power Group,
LLC, 2016 WL 4073318, at *5 (holding that the claims "do not state an arguably inventive
concept in the realm of application of the information-based abstract ideas" because the claims
"do not include any requirement for performing the claimed functions of gathering, analyzing,
and displaying in real time by use of anything but entirely conventional, generic technology").
Additionally, the claims do not describe how the components function. (See, e.g., '593 patent,
6:45-7:2, 8:12-39, 8:62-10:6 (claiming generic or functionally-described computer components
"send[ing]" information to other generic or functionally-described computer components)); see
also Electric Power Group, LLC, 2016 WL 4073318, at *5 ("Nothing 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."); In re TL! Commc 'ns, 823 F.3d at 615 ("[V]ague, functional descriptions of server
components are insufficient to transform [an] abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.").
The specification therefore does not provide an inventive concept because it "limits its
discussion of these components to abstract functional descriptions devoid of technical
explanation as to how to implement the invention." In re TL! Commc 'ns, 823 F.3d at 615.
The computer component claims, claims 9, 13, 14, and 15, fail under§ 101 for the same
reason that the method claims, claims 1 and 5, do. None of the claims offers a meaningful
limitation beyond linking the abstract idea to generic or functionally-described computer
components. See Alice Corp., 134 S. Ct. at 2360 ("[T]he system claims are no different from the
method claims in substance. The method claims recite the abstract idea implemented on a
generic computer; the system claims recite a handful of generic computer components
configured to implement the same idea.").
For the reasons stated above, the asserted claims of the '593 patent are directed to patent-
ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of
Patentable Subject Matter Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 101 (D.I. 10) is granted. An appropriate order
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