U.S. District Judge: Method of Determining Intent of Web Page Visitors Is Abstract
In USC IP Partnership, LP v Facebook, Inc.2021 WL 6690275, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas declared U.S. Patent No. 8,645,300 invalid under 35 USC §101
The patent determines the intent of a website visitor in order to suggest web pages for the visitor. To determine a visitor’s intent, the patent uses an “intent engine” that collects and analyzes intent data collected from the visitor and the visitor’s browsing activity. Based on the determined intent, recommended web pages are displayed to the visitor.
Representative claim 1 reflects this process:
1. A method for predicting an intent of a visitor to a web page, the method comprising:
receiving in an intent engine at least one input parameter from a web browser displaying the web page;
processing the at least one input parameter in the intent engine to determine at least one inferred intent;
providing the at least one inferred intent to the web browser to cause the at least one inferred intent to be displayed on the web page; prompt the visitor to confirm the visitor’s intent;
receiving a confirmed intent in the intent engine;
processing the confirmed intent in the intent engine to determine at least one recommended web page that matches the confirmed intent, selected from a plurality of web pages in a defined namespace;
causing the web page in the web browser to display at least one link to the at least one recommended web page;
prompt the visitor to rank the webpage for the inferred intent; receive a web browser ranking; and
storing a data point comprising an identity of the web page, the inferred intent and the received rank.
Addressing Alice As a first step, USC argued that the claimed method was not an abstract idea because it improved Internet functionality over the state of the art, which did not determine a visitor’s intent. Unconvinced, Judge Albright held that claim 1 sought to find information matching a user’s intent. According to Justice Albright, this was a long-standing problem that was not unique to the Internet or computer technology. Further, Justice Albright found that the claim did not improve the functionality of the computer network. Instead, he found that the claim and specification only cited high-level functionality without explaining specific steps that improved Internet or computer functionality. Thus, Justice Albright concluded that, under Alice First stage, assertions aimed at the abstract idea of collecting, analyzing and using a visitor’s intent data.
USC made two arguments that, under Alice second stage, the court could not give summary judgment that the claims were directed to inadmissible subject matter. First, USC argued that there were material facts in genuine dispute, relying on the specification and supporting expert testimony. Second, she argued that the claim set forth an inventive concept because the generic computer elements did not perform the required steps.
Judge Albright found no material facts in authentic facts. The only sentence of the specification stating the subject matter of the patent did not really pose a problem of material fact, because it was a statement of the abstract idea itself. With respect to the USC expert, Judge Albright found that the expert’s evidence was conclusive, unsupported by any hard facts from the patent or prior art, and therefore did not raise any issues. question of material fact in a real dispute.
Finally, in concluding that the claims did not set forth an inventive concept, Justice Albright found that the claim did not list anything, either individually or as an ordered combination, beyond the abstract idea itself. . He concluded that the claim, viewed in light of the specification, required nothing more than off-the-shelf components. This included the claimed “intent engine”. He found that the “intent engine” was a purely functional “black box” implemented using standard cloud platforms”. Approaching the claim as an ordered combination, Justice Albright concluded that the claims recite a logical sequence of steps dictated by the abstract idea.Thus, he concluded, the claims did not set forth an inventive concept.
Because the claims were directed to an abstract idea and recited no more than the abstract idea, Judge Albright declared the claims invalid under 35 USC §101 as being directed to unpatentable subject matter. USC appealed to the Federal Circuit.