Patenting Web Advertising? Ask Alice, I Think She’ll Know

By on March 14, 2024
Posted In Patents

In a wide-ranging opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment of invalidity for lack of patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 with respect to claims directed to web-based advertising. Chewy, Inc. v. International Business Machines, Corp., Case No. 22-1756 (Fed. Cir. March 5, 2024) (Moore, Stoll, Cunningham, JJ.)

Chewy filed suit against International Business Machines (IBM) seeking a declaration that Chewy’s website did not infringe multiple patents related to web-based advertising. IBM responded by filing infringement counterclaims. After claim construction and discovery, the district court granted Chewy’s motions for summary judgment of invalidity for lack of patent eligible subject matter with regard to the asserted claims of one patent and noninfringement of the asserted claims of a second patent.

The claims of the first patent relate to providing a targeted advertisement from an “information repository” to a user based on the user’s internet search. In affirming the district court, the Federal Circuit first determined that, under Alice step 1, “[t]he claims broadly recite correlating advertisements with search results using a generic process.” The Court noted that the claims “merely recite the concept of identifying advertisements based on search results, without any specificity as to how this is accomplished,” and are directed to “the abstract idea of identifying advertisements based on search results.”

Turning to Alice step 2, the Federal Circuit found that the claims used a generic database and conventional processing steps, and “claimed use of a conventional repository for storing advertisements and associated search results in a well-known way.” Because “the claims recite the generic process for obtaining search results from a search query and using the search results to identify advertisements,” they failed under Alice step 2 and did not claim patent eligible subject matter under § 101.

Regarding the second asserted patent, the district court construed the claim term “selectively storing advertising objects at a store established at the reception system” as requiring the “advertising objects” to be “pre-fetched” and retrieved before the user requested a page on a website. Because it was undisputed that “Chewy retrieves advertisements in response to a user requesting a page” and not before, the district court ruled that Chewy’s website did not meet this claim limitation. Looking to the intrinsic claim construction evidence, the Federal Circuit held that the district court’s claim construction was amply supported by the specification and prosecution history and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement. Of note, the Court explained that the specification made multiple references to pre-fetching as being part “of the present invention” and therefore limited the scope of the claims.

With respect to one asserted claim of the second patent, which did not include the limitation at issue, the district court found that Chewy’s website did not practice the limitation of “establishing characterizations for respective users based on the compiled data” because “the record undisputedly showed they deliver advertisements based on the page the user is currently viewing, regardless of the individual user’s interaction history or demographics.” However, based on the record evidence, the Federal Circuit reversed this finding. In so doing, the Court pointed to two documents: Chewy’s privacy policy noting that users may be provided with “personalized or targeted ads,” and a strategy document suggesting product recommendations “based on the likelihood that it is the right time to re-purchase.” The Court explained that these documents were sufficient to create a material factual dispute sufficient to defeat summary judgment and that it was not necessary for IBM to identify any allegedly infringing source code.

Practice Note: At the summary judgment stage, a patentee is not required to identify allegedly infringing source code and may rely on other documentary evidence such as user manuals, strategy documents or deposition testimony to support its infringement case.

Daniel Sternberg
Daniel Sternberg represents clients in all aspects of intellectual property (IP) litigation in district court and the International Trade Commission (ITC). Bolstered by a strong background in software engineering, Daniel has extensive experience both defending against patent infringement and other IP claims on behalf of clients, as well as enforcing such claims against infringers. Daniel also advises clients on patent portfolio strategy and provides IP due diligence support. He has technical experience in numerous areas, including telecommunications, circuit design, software and medical devices. Read Daniel Sternberg's full bio.