Category: Intellectual Property

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Tinder v. Bumble: Swipe Right for Your Next Patent Infringement Expert Witness

Last Friday I was sitting at my desk trying to find the next topic to blog about. Friday was an incredibly slow news day and nothing had piqued my interest. So I reached out to some lawyer-friends in the LegalMinds Mastermind Group for some ideas. I received a lot of feedback with some really great ideas. However, this Tinder v. Bumble lawsuit sounded like the most fun. A special thanks to patent lawyer, Karima Gulick, for the idea.

In fact, I had not even heard about this lawsuit until Karima mentioned it. It seems that Tinder’s parent company, Match Group (think Match.com), has decided to sue Bumble for patent infringement. For those who haven’t heard of Bumble, it is another popular dating app that allows women to make the first move. It seems they are now using very similar features to Tinder. An article in The Verge described the two patents at issue:

“…one called ‘Matching Process System and Method,’ in which users swipe cards and mutually select one another, as well as ‘Display Screen or Portion Thereof With a Graphical User Interface of a Mobile Device,’ which it describes as an ‘ornamental aspect’ of Tinder’s App. The lawsuit also points to similarities between each companies’ apps, and Bumble’s descriptions of ‘swiping’ run afoul of Tinder’s registered trademarks.”

It seems Tinder is accusing Bumble of infringing on the item that really made Tinder famous (i.e. swiping). Swiping did away with all that scrolling, reading, and learning about a potential romantic interest. Who has time for that? Even if you have time, who wants to do it? Instead, Tinder allowed you to make the important dating decision based on looks and looks alone, if you’re that shallow. It does appear there is a short biography portion some might want to read, but only if the potential match fits your physical requirements per their photo.

“Swipe right” and “swipe left” became a part of our nomenclature, often used outside of dating. I’ve heard comics and late show hosts use the terminology. There is no doubt in my mind, those using the terminology associate it with Tinder. Alas, Bumble decided to use the feature as well. Probably because users liked picking their mates via the swipe method.

There are some further accusations as set forth in this article by Recode, “[Tinder] also claims that early Bumble executives Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick, who both previously worked at Tinder, stole ‘confidential information related to proposed Tinder features,’ including the idea for a feature that lets users go back if they accidentally skip someone, according to the suit.” This is important, because when you’re swiping for volume (because it’s a numbers game) and get into a zone you might accidentally eliminate someone you find attractive. You need to undo that ASAP.

Finally, there is the issue of Match/Tinder trying to purchase Bumble last year. They offered $450 million, which was turned down, due to the acrimonious relationship between the two companies. Is Tinder using this case to apply some pressure on Bumble, thereby encouraging a sale? Quite possible.

If the case actually moves ahead and a sale is not negotiated, we can expect to see some expert witness participation. What kind of experts? I wish I could encourage you to swipe right to view them. However, you just have to keep reading!

Intellectual Property / Patent Infringement:

Intellectual property is sort of wide ranging term for expert witnesses. A broad range of expertise fits into the category intellectual property, such as patents, patent infringement, trademarks, trade dress, copyrights, licensing, trade secrets, and more.

In the Tinder v. Bumble issue, it appears they are only suing over a couple of patents and The Verge told us what those patents are. Both patents appear to be connected with the user interface, so I anticipate we will see intellectual property experts with software, programming,  and design engineering backgrounds. There is potential need for electronic engineering expert witnesses, but I think that will be less likely as it doesn’t appear hardware is at issue in this case.

Trademarks:

The lawsuit also claims that Bumble’s use of the word “swiping” infringes on Tinder’s registered trademarks. This legal dictionary from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute describes a trademark as follows, “A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods.”

The Legal Information Institute also tells us that “Two basic requirements must be met for a mark to be eligible for trademark protection: it must be in use in commerce and it must be distinctive.”

As I mentioned above, I knew that “swiping” was something associated with Tinder and I know that Tinder is a subscription based dating service. So, according to this layperson, the mark is being used in commerce and I recognize it as distinctive to Tinder. Now that I’ve made this information public, I cannot imagine Bumble wanting me on the jury. Luckily, the case has been filed in the US District Court in Waco, Texas.

Furthermore, a trademark expert witness retained by Bumble, may be able to provide information about “swiping” that indicates it is not distinctive. In fact, the terminology may be quite prevalent in software uses.

A Similar Matter?

The software matter I equate to this lawsuit would be the “Stories” issue between Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat was the first social media platform to use the Stories feature, allowing users to post a continuing series of video clips or photos in order to create an ongoing story. Instagram copied it, nearly outright, and even admitted that they took the idea from Snapchat. To my knowledge, this has not resulted in litigation. However, the use of software-based features seem nearly identical and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a patent infringement and trademark dispute between Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) and Snapchat.

Requests:

As I am not practicing in this field, I think it would be great to get some feedback from a some lawyers who regularly deal with patents and trademarks.

I have asked Karima Gulick of Gulick Law and Joey Vitale of Indie Law to provide some real insight, rather than lay punditry, in the matter of Tinder v. Bumble.

UPDATE:

Intellectual property and patent attorney, Karima Gulick, has provided her insight about this case on her blog. Here is her blog post: Tinder v. Bumble: Patent dispute in app dating paradise.

Copyright and trademark attorney, Joey Vitale, has provided his insight about this case on his blog. Here is his blog post: Be careful if you “swipe”: trademark battles in Tinder v. Bumble.

 

 

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Google Antitrust Investigations: FTC, EU, state attorneys general… More to come?

The ABA Journal reported this week that Google was subpoenaed by the Missouri attorney general (Josh Hawley) for antitrust and consumer protection violations. Google has been placed on notice and the investigation is ongoing. Earlier this year, the Mississippi attorney general sued Google for similar violations and the European Union fined the company $2.7 billion for consumer protection violations. Are you seeing a pattern? Antitrust litigation against Google seems to be full speed ahead.

According to the article, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) completed an investigation against Google in 2013. The FTC concluded, “We have not found sufficient evidence that Google manipulates its search algorithms to unfairly disadvantage vertical websites that compete with Google-owned vertical properties.” Evidently, Mr. Hawley does not agree with the FTC finding so he decided to investigate on his own.

When investigating and prosecuting cases involving sophisticated technology and antitrust issues, attorneys depend on experts to perform complex investigations and unravel complex issues. Who will the attorneys general and defense counsel turn to in support of these involved matters? Let’s take a look at the issues:

Antitrust / Consumer Protection:

To understand more about the laws governing antitrust issues in the US please visit the FTC for a brief summary.

Essentially, United States antitrust law is a collection of federal and state laws regulating the conduct and organization of businesses, generally to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers.  As the FTC page indicates, there are three main laws covering antitrust behavior: the Sherman Act 1890, the Clayton Act 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act 1914. For more than 100 years, “The antitrust laws have had the same basic objective: to protect the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.” The laws also basically prevent collusion or cartel-like practices and monopolies.

The Missouri attorney general has said, “There is strong reason to believe that Google has not been acting with the best interest of Missourians in mind.” It appears the Mr. Hawley believes Google is doing things which are not promoting, and possibly impeding, fair competition. Further, their algorithms may be directing users to Google-owned properties rather than websites offering services which compete with those Google-owned properties. As Google is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to Internet searching, any tactics directing users to their own goods or services could be considered a restraint of trade.

In order to prove Google manipulates algorithms for their own benefit, the Missouri attorney general is probably going to have to employ some expert consultants who may later testify as expert witnesses. Google’s defense counsel will probably have to do the same. I assume Google will have many of the pre-litigation consultants in-house.

During the investigation, Mr. Hawley will likely need to consult with antitrust and antitrust economics experts to determine if actions by Google are negatively impacting consumers or restraining trade. Furthermore, he may need to employ consultants to conduct market research to have statistical evidence of the impact on consumers.

Algorithms:

Most of us (is this too presumptive?) have some sort of rough idea about search algorithms and what they accomplish. We understand it to be a mathematical equation used to search data and deliver a result based on the search terms we utilized.

After reading my last paragraph, I have to say there are probably far more accurate and simplistic descriptions of an algorithm. I may not have properly described how they work. That’s because I’m not a computer scientist. Luckily, neither the prosecution nor defense will be calling Nick Rishwain as an expert witness in Missouri v. Google.

The legal representatives from both sides are going to need assistance in understanding search algorithms and how algorithms might be manipulated by Google. They are going to need to know this quite early in the case in order to request and deliver the proper documentation during the investigation and discovery stages should Missouri file a lawsuit.

Both sides will likely need the assistance of information and Internet technology consultants. More specifically, I can see the need for information science & architecture experts as well as search engine optimization experts.

As the ABA Journal article made abundantly clear: Google has faced many legal actions related to antitrust and it appears even more legal actions lie ahead. It should be noted that Google is not alone in this area. There appears to be increased chatter about antitrust actions against Amazon as well. If the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission avoid taking action, we may see more attorneys general choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute the corporate giants for dominating the market.

For more information, check out the Experts.com Antitrust Articles section.

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The Tech Industry and Litigious NPEs

Patent InfringementIt comes as no surprise that the tech industry is the most litigated of 2012-2013. With companies such as Apple, Samsung, Verizon, LG, and Google vying for major shares of the market, competition can get fierce. For over a year, Samsung and Apple have been slugging it out over the copy and design of the iPhone’s software features. These, however, are operating companies with products and services to sell, both of which are vulnerable to fundamentally important legal counter-assertion defenses. Intellectual property litigation gets even more complicated and egregious when it is engendered by entities with no competitive products and services. The same defenses do not apply to to these entities. Even with new and pending patent reform laws in place, high tech litigation is overwhelming our court system and affecting the bottom lines of many high tech companies in industries such as electronics, communications, semiconductors, and software.

The most notable combatants in the IT litigation arena are the Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs), derogatorily known as “patent trolls.” These companies base their revenue stream solely on collecting, licensing, and enforcing patents, litigating whenever there is a threat to their patent’s market share, whether real or dubious. Although under criticism from some, James Bessen and Michael Meurer from Boston University released a highly publicized study estimating that the direct cost of NPE patent assertions is “substantial, totaling about $29 billion in accrued costs in 2011.” Although this includes patent infringement awards in all industries, high tech makes up fifty percent of NPE suits filed.

Litigation brought on by NPEs, both costly and time consuming, is difficult to defend. According to PatentFreedom, a company dedicated to assessing and addressing specific NPE risks, since NPEs “do not sell products or services (other than the licensing of their patents), NPEs typically do not infringe on the patent rights contained in others’ patent portfolios. As a result, they are essentially invulnerable to the threat of counter-assertion, which is otherwise one of the most important defensive – and stabilizing – measures in patent disputes.”

The America Invents Act (AIA) passed in September of 2011, which was meant to limit the number of defendants an NPE can join in a suit, has not curbed the amount of patent infringement litigation occurring today. The major tenet of AIA is a shift from “first to invent” to “first to file.” As such, NPEs can no longer gather all possible defendants in an effort to maximize awards. With good intentions, Congress set out to decrease the “deep pocket” syndrome, thereby reducing the number of suits filed. Although the AIA changes the economics of litigation, it has not, in the past few years, decreased the number of cases filed by NPEs. In fact, PatentFreedom estimates that, NPE  litigation against operating companies has increased by 170 from 2012 to 2013, and this is only the halfway mark. In 2012, the number of cases filed against operating companies was 4,229. So far this year, that number has increased to 4,400.

In March of 2013, the Shield Act was passed to curb the amount of egregious lawsuits brought on by NPEs. In effect, it makes NPEs responsible for the litigation costs of failed suits. However, the Shield Act requires defendants to take the suit all the way to final judgement. Since much time and resources are required to litigate these suits, most settle well before judgement. This leaves the door wide open for opportunistic NPEs.
Considering they have the right to sue, do NPEs, by their nature, have an unfair advantage over the operating companies they are suing. Considering the state of affairs today, should Congress do more to level the playing field? Only time will tell how this battle plays out.

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PATENT INFRINGEMENT – CEASE AND DESIST!

Patent infringement litigation has been on the rise since the mid 1990s due mainly to the increase in computer-age technology.  Most patent infringement cases involve one company charging another company with selling or using its product for their own economic advantage.  Many times, the Defendant in a patent litigation case has no idea he is infringing on another’s intellectual property, but ignorance is never a defense in the law.  The Defendant will still have to cease benefiting from the patented item and pay the allotted damages to the Plaintiff.   If  the infringement is proven to be willful, damages in such a case can be increased up to three times the actual amount of damage.

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Patent law is governed by Federal Law and the rules are set out by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, 35 U.S.C. 271 Infringement of patent. – Patent Laws.  To find that a patent has indeed been infringed upon, several items must be found. In an article entitled, “Understanding Patent Infringement Legal Opinions”, David V. Radack sets out the following:

  1. A copy of the allegedly infringed patent.
  2. The file wrapper or file history of the patent which includes a copy of the patent application as filed, communication from the patent examiner in charge of the application, and communication from the applicant to the patent examiner.
  3. A copy of the prior art references cited during the prosecution of the patent application.
  4. The allegedly infringing product or device itself. Preferably, a commercially sold device is best.

Once this information is analyzed, many times with the help of Patent Infringement Expert Witnesses and Consultants, an opinion summary is provided.  It is this opinion which sets forth how the parties will proceed, how  the Defendant should respond to a cease and desist order, if changes can be made to Defendant’s product which will eliminate the violation, or to negate a charge of intentional infringement.

Considering the litigation gridlock currently in the Federal Court system, it may be worth it to seek the knowledge of  a Patent Expert or Consultant concurrent with the development of a new device or product. If not then, retaining a Consultant prior to marketing the product could save an enormous amount of time and money.

Please click the link for a list of knowledgeable Intellectual Property, Patent Infringement and Trademark Expert Witnesses and Consultants.