Judge Rules Tinder's Swiping Interface Is Eligible For Patenting

  • Monday, January 07 2019 @ 09:07 am
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Tinder and Bumble have spent most of 2018 embroiled in a fierce legal battle over patent infringement, misuse of intellectual property and theft of trade secrets. At the center of the dispute is the swiping mechanism that has become a ubiquitous feature of modern dating. In March, Tinder’s parent company Match Group filed a lawsuit alleging that Bumble “copied Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise.” Bumble responded with an aggressive countersuit asserting that the swiping interface is not an original notion worthy of patent protection.

After attempts to settle privately failed, the dispute headed to court and the first big ruling has been handed out.

Judge Alan Albright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied Bumble's claim that the Match Group patents in question are ineligible for patenting under Section 101 of the Patent Act.

“There is a presumption that a patent is valid,” Albright wrote in a December 17 order, citing Ruiz v. A.B. Chance Co., 234 F.3d 654, 662 (Fed. Cir. 2000). “The defendant bears the burden of proving invalidity by clear and convincing evidence, and the burden never shifts to the plaintiff, the patentee, to prove validity. Where a motion to dismiss is based on a claim of patent ineligible subject matter, dismissal will generally be unwarranted unless the ‘only plausible reading of the patent must be that there is clear and convincing evidence of ineligibility.’"

Albright ruled that Match Group had improved existing interface technology sufficiently to survive Bumble’s motion to dismiss over patent-ineligible subject matter. The judge also denied Bumble’s motion to dismiss Match Group’s trade secret claim and Bumble’s motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations. The three motions have been denied without prejudice, allowing Bumble to refile in the future if the company can successfully demonstrate that Match Group’s claims are invalid.

Bumble and Match Group’s dueling lawsuits come at a time when the limitations of the US patent system in the face of the digital age are becoming clear. The system was originally designed to protect creators of machines and other tangible inventions. In the internet era, the same system is now being applied to software and ideas - like, say, a matching mechanism for connecting people through a mobile app.

Can a concept be patented? Bumble says no. Tinder says yes. A 2014 Supreme Court ruling called the Alice decision held that proposing the use of a computer or the internet to implement an abstract idea is not patentable. In the case of Match Group v. Bumble, Judge Albright has swiped in favor of Tinder’s patents, but the challenge of adapting patent law to a brave new digital world will continue.