Another § 101 Dismissal Reversed

Patents directed to use of travel histories to improve search results survive motion to dismiss

For the second time in less than a month, the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a complaint on patent ineligibility grounds.

The patents at issue involved collecting a travel history and then using the results to improve search results. For example, if a user visited a certain location, the system looks for other users who also visited that location. Based on the other user’s travel history, the system tailors search results for the user.

The majority of the Federal Circuit panel, Judges Stoll and Reyna, held that claims should not have been held ineligible under step two of the Alice inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage. In a “close call,” the majority found the patents were directed to an abstract idea under step one of the Alice inquiry. But, under step two of the Alice inquiry, the majority found the patentee to have plausibly alleged that the claims recite a specific implementation that purports to solve a problem unique to the Internet.

The claims satisfied step two because they provide a “specific way” to solve the problem of search results—through the “reference individual,” according to the majority. In particular, the claims of the first patent use a “physical location relationship” with a third-party “reference individual” to increase the priority of search results and describes how the physical relationship is established. The system searches the physical location histories of both a reference individual and the searching person to determine whether they have visited a common location and prioritizes search results that the reference individual has visited. Coupled with allegations in the complaint that the system solves a problem particular to the Internet, by providing “specifically tailored result[s] to the searcher’s unique characteristics” and “eliminat[ing] the inherent bias of pushing and referring places through conventional web searches,” in contrast to conventional methods in which web searches merely defaulted to the “highest-ranking Uniform Resource Locator (‘URL’) link” by using purely “virtual encounters,” the complaint was found to plausibly allege patent eligibility.

The claims of the second patent also plausibly alleged patent eligibility. Those claims recite searching a location history database for entries “in the location history of the individual member” conducting the geographically targeted search that fall within “the target geographic area.” The complaint alleged this technique improves computerized search results by taking into account the “past visit of such user” (i.e., the particular user conducting the search) and “geographic location” of the search rather than relying on “virtual encounters.”

Judge Hughes dissented, stating the only purportedly unconventional aspect of the claims is the use of location history in a search engine, which would render the claims ineligible.