“According to NetSoc, the CAFC failed to recognize that the network computer implementation of a social network with a rating system that is both novel and unconventional creates a better social network. This improved social network solves a technological problem linked to older social networks.”
On April 5, NetSoc LLC filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) after losing its appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), which found NetSoc’s patent was directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.
NetSoc claims that U.S. Patent No. 9,978,107 (‘107 Patent), titled “Method and System for Establishing and Using a Social Network to Facilitate People in Life Issues,” was legally issued in 2003 contrary to the claim of respondents, Match Group LLC, Plenty of Fish Media and Humor Rainbow. NetSoc says that review is warranted to resolve four legal issues of importance, including:
- Whether the CAFC’s analysis established a per se rule regarding the patentability of social networks;
- whether, in 2003, a network computer implemented social network was an application of an abstract concept;
- whether the creation of a network computer implemented social network transformed it into something concrete; and
- whether solving a prior art technological problem allows for proper dismissal of a patent.
Establishment of a Per Se Rule
NetSoc claims that the CAFC’s December 31, 2020, analysis creates a per se rule that claims concentrating on a computer implemented social network are unpatentable. NetSoc believes that the CAFC failed to consider the underlying facts that the rating system was found to be unconventional by the patent examiner and ‘automation’ is never mentioned because the CAFC incorrectly assumed that the claims of the ‘107 patent were guided to “automating the conventional establishment of social networks to allow humans to exchange information and form relationships.” According to NetSoc, the CAFC failed to recognize that the network computer implementation of a social network with a rating system that is both novel and unconventional creates a better social network. This improved social network solves a technological problem linked to older social networks, mainly the process of matching users and participants based on a novel assessment making it patent eligible.
The CAFC failed to properly determine the emphasis of the claims resulting in a failure of the first step of Alice because of its search for a specific field or particular component failed in finding that the ‘107 patent’s claims are not directed to the formation of something concrete. NetSoc argues that because the patent was granted in 2003 that “a computer implemented social network with a novel rating system was not conventional and thus not an abstract unpatentable idea pertaining to organizing human activity.”
New Age Social Networks
NetSoc’s second argument claims that the CAFC’s conclusion that social networks are an established practice is not the appropriate inquiry. The CAFC’s two-step test for determining the patent eligibility of alleged “abstract ideas” was never envisioned as a per se rule making unpatentable all ideas or concepts related to the application of a social network. This is because all inventions, at some level, “embody, use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas.” When a 2003 computer implemented social network with a rating system are put “to a new and useful end … [they] remain eligible for patent protection” making it patentable subject matter. NetSoc highlights the specifications of the ‘107 patent saying the specifications discuss “how the claimed social network facilitates people with life issues like employee relocation” which makes the claims new and useful.
The Federal Circuit however erred by finding the claims of the ‘107 patent conventional based on the incorrect assertion that ‘the ‘107 patent specification acknowledges that social networks are a longstanding practice.’ Rather, the specification provides the claimed social networks ‘facilitate individuals to resolve various life issues…’
These claims “focus on a specific means or method that improves” a network computer implemented social network which makes it patent eligible.
Citing CardioNet, LLC v. InfoBionic Inc., NetSoc argues that the claims of the ‘107 patent are not unlike the claims in CardioNet, where the CAFC found the claims directed on a specific means or method of improvement of cardiac monitoring technology and not focused on a result or effect that is itself the abstract idea or simply invokes a generic process and machinery. To confirm its conclusion, the CAFC used the written description. NetSoc believes that there are similarities to the specifications of the ‘107 patent which are more akin to a technological improvement because of making relocation a success.
Savior from Rule 12
NetSoc’s final reason for granting the petition is their argument that dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12 is inappropriate when the specification claims solutions to prior art issues. A 2003 network implemented social network can’t be considered conventional when the factual record is examined as a whole. The CAFC’s incorrect step one analysis is the wrong assumption that the claims are focused on automating techniques that are known. NetSoc claims it’s difficult to believe how anyone could mentally produce a social network with the novel and unconventional rating system that is claimed in the ‘107 patent. A person can match arrangements, for a conventional social network, it’s the rating based in part on tracked answer time that is unconventional about the claims and not fathomably performed by a person. The CAFC didn’t recognize any social network where a person performed the rating as claimed. If discovery had been more fully developed, then the facts would have shown that the claimed rating system was discovered to cause the asserted social network to work in an unconventional way. This means the claims were found to be unconventional which was “not properly addressed at the 12(b)(6) stage when all reasonable inferences should be taken or the non-movant.”
NetSoc concluded this argument by highlighting an advantage of the claims of the ‘107 patent, which is described as making employee relocation a success, in the specification. This genuine determination is important in the eligibility analysis because early dismissal on eligibility grounds should be rare when the record isn’t well-developed. If the record were fully developed, it would show that in 2003, a computer implemented social network was not conventional. In 2003, no person could mentally perform as the novel and unconventional rating system that is claimed in the ‘107 patent.
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