U.S. District Judge: Method of Determining Webpage Visitor Intent Is Abstract
In USC IP Partnership, L.P. v. Facebook, Inc., 2021 WL 6690275, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found U.S. Patent No. 8,645,300 invalid under 35 U.S.C. §101
The patent determines a website visitor's intent in order to suggest webpages for the visitor. To determine a visitor's intent, the patent uses an "intent engine" that collects and analyzes intent data gathered from the visitor and the visitor's browsing activity. Based on the determined intent, recommended webpages are displayed for the visitor.
Representative Claim 1 reflects this process:
1. A method for predicting an intent of a visitor to a webpage, the method comprising:
receiving into an intent engine at least one input parameter from a web browser displaying the webpage;
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 webpage;
prompting the visitor to confirm the visitor's intent;
receiving a confirmed intent into the intent engine;
processing the confirmed intent in the intent engine to determine at least one recommended webpage that matches the confirmed intent, selected from a plurality of webpages within a defined namespace;
causing the webpage in the web browser to display at least one link to the at least one recommended webpage;
prompting the visitor to rank the webpage for the inferred intent; receiving a rank from the web browser; and
storing a datapoint comprising an identity of the webpage, the inferred intent and the received rank.
Addressing Alice step one, USC argued that the claimed method was not an abstract idea because it improved internet functionality over the prior art, which did not determine a visitor's intent. Not persuaded, Judge Albright held that Claim 1 was directed to finding information that matches a user's intent. This, Judge Albright found, was a longstanding problem not unique to the internet or computer technology. In addition, Judge Albright found that the claim did not improve computer network functionality. Instead, he found that the claim and specification only recite high-level functionality without explaining specific steps that improved internet or computer functionality. Thus, Judge Albright concluded that, under Alice step one, the claims were directed to the abstract idea of collecting, analyzing and using a visitor's intent data.
USC made two arguments that, under Alice step two, the court could not grant summary judgment that the claims were directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. First, USC argued that there were material facts in genuine dispute, relying on the specification and supporting expert testimony. Second, it argued that the claim recited an inventive concept because generic computer elements did not perform the required steps.
Judge Albright found no material facts in genuine facts. The single sentence in the specification stating the patent's purpose did not create an issue of material fact in genuine, because it was a statement of the abstract idea itself. Regarding USC's expert, Judge Albright found that the expert's testimony was conclusory, not backed by concrete facts from the patent or prior art, and thus did not raise an issue of material fact in genuine dispute.
Lastly, in concluding that claims did not recite an inventive concept, Judge Albright found that the claim did not recite any elements, either individually or as an ordered combination, beyond the abstract idea itself. He found 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 the "intent engine" to be a "purely functional 'black box' implemented using standard cloud platforms." Addressing the claim as an ordered combination, Judge Albright found that the claims recite a logical sequence of steps dictated by the abstract idea. Thus, he concluded, the claims did not recite an inventive concept.
Because the claims were directed to an abstract idea and did not recite anything more than the abstract idea, Judge Albright found the claims invalid under 35 U.S.C. §101 as being directed to patent-ineligible subject matter. USC has appealed to the Federal Circuit.