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Tele-Publishing Inc. v. Facebook, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 11, 2017

TELE-PUBLISHING, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
FACEBOOK, INC., and THEFACEBOOK, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS P. WOODLOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tele-Publishing, Inc. (“TPI”) and defendants Facebook, Inc. and The Facebook, LLC (collectively “Facebook”) have presented various dispositive motions to resolve this computer program patent dispute. The focus of the instant memorandum will be the respective requests for summary disposition regarding the validity of the asserted claims of U.S. Patent No. 6, 253, 216 (the “‘216 Patent”) under 35 U.S.C. § 101, which governs whether the subject matter is patentable as assessed through the framework of Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Intern., 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014). Because I conclude the subject matter of the ‘216 Patent is not patentable, I will direct the clerk to enter final judgment for the defendants, resolving this case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Patent

         On June 26, 2001, the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) issued the ‘216 Patent to TPI. The claimed invention “relates to a method and apparatus for providing a personal page over a computer network. More particularly, the method and apparatus provide users with a secure way to display personal information to other computer network users.” ‘216 Patent col 1. l. 14-18.

         The patent discusses the history of “personals” sections in newspapers and explains how with “the advent of the Internet's World Wide Web, systems for providing personals advertisements on networked computer systems have appeared.” Id. at col. 1. ll. 28-32. These web-based systems “consist largely of the same information that is available in the newspaper advertisements” and “merely mimic the newspaper advertisements” rather than taking advantage of the new technological format. Id. at col. 1. ll. 37-40.

         According to the patent, existing networked computer systems for providing personals advertisements have several major shortcomings. First, if the system allows users to customize their personal pages, the system “often requires that the user be able to generate the page using a programing language or other protocol” even though “many users of personals are not familiar with such languages.” Id. at col. 1. ll. 59-64. Second, existing systems that use standard web pages “provide no privacy” to users because “the Internet allows access by users world-wide” and “a relatively large number of Internet users exist.” Id. at col. 1. ll. 65-68, col. 2. l. 1. “With such a large number of users, it is desirable to restrict access to information on some pages or even to restrict access to some pages.” ‘216 Patent col. 2. ll. 3-6. Finally, existing systems struggle “to direct a desired audience to a particular page. The owner of such a page must simply hope that the desired audience, out of some tens of millions of users, finds the page.” Id. at col. 2. ll. 8-11.

         The ‘216 Patent purports to address the shortcomings of earlier systems. The invention is designed “to provide a secure method for providing personal information in a network environment which makes use of the multimedia opportunities available on such a medium and makes the information available in a private way, i.e., only to those people that the person providing the information wishes to see the information.” Id. at col. 2. ll. 12-18.

         Claim 1 recites:

         A method for providing a personal page on a computer system accessible to a plurality of remote users through a computer network, the remote users having profile information stored in the computer network and accessible to other remote users, comprising the steps of:

a) acceptable [sic] [accepting] profile information from a plurality of remote users;
b) prompting a page-creating remote user with a plurality of page templates for the personal page and receiving a template selection from the remote user;
c) prompting the page-creating remote user to enter text to the personal page and receiving entered text from the remote user;
d) prompting the page-creating remote user to select or enter graphical information to display on the personal page and receiving the selection or entry from the remote user;
e) storing attributes representing each selection or entry made by the page-creating remote user in one or more databases;
f) providing the page-creating remote user with means to input security parameters for the personal page, the security parameters specifying authorization of at least one other remote user to access the personal page;
g) storing the security parameters in one or more databases; and
h) displaying the personal page upon request only to remote users who are authorized to access the personal page.

Id. at col. 12 ll. 48-67, col. 13 ll. 1-9.

         Claims 2, 9, 25, and 26 depend upon Claim 1.[1]

         Similarly, Claim 21 recites:

A computer program product comprising computer useable medium having computer readable program code to:
(a) prompt a page-creating remote user with a plurality of page templates for displaying personal information and to receive a template selection from the remote user;
(b) prompt the page-creating remote user to enter text to the personal page and to receive entered text from the remote user;
(c) prompt the page-creating remote user to select or enter graphical information to display on the personal page and to receive the selection or entry from the remote user;
(d) store attributes representing each selection or entry made by the page-creating remote user in one ...

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