In September of 2009, Ultramercial, Inc. sued WildTangent, Inc., Hulu and YouTube in the Central District of California for alleged patent infringement of U.S. 7,346,545 (the ‘545 patent). The ‘545 patent claims trading advertisement viewing for access to content over the Internet. The Abstract of the ‘545 patent reads:
The present invention is directed to a method and system for distributing or obtaining products covered by intellectual property over a telecommunications network whereby a consumer may, rather paying for the products, choose to receive such products after viewing and/or interacting with an interposed sponsor’s or advertiser’s message, wherein the interposed sponsor or advertiser may pay the owner or assignee of the underlying intellectual property associated with the product through an intermediary such as a facilitator.
Claim 1 of the ‘545 patent is more detailed:
1. A method for distribution of products over the Internet via a facilitator, said method comprising the steps of:
a first step of receiving, from a content provider, media products that are covered by intellectual-property rights protection and are available for purchase, wherein each said media product being comprised of at least one of text data, music data, and video data;
a second step of selecting a sponsor message to be associated with the media product, said sponsor message being selected from a plurality of sponsor messages, said second step including accessing an activity log to verify that the total number of times which the sponsor message has been previously presented is less than the number of transaction cycles contracted by the sponsor of the sponsor message;
a third step of providing the media product for sale at an Internet website;
a fourth step of restricting general public access to said media product;
a fifth step of offering to a consumer access to the media product without charge to the consumer on the precondition that the consumer views the sponsor message;
a sixth step of receiving from the consumer a request to view the sponsor message, wherein the consumer submits said request in response to being offered access to the media product;
a seventh step of, in response to receiving the request from the consumer, facilitating the display of a sponsor message to the consumer;
an eighth step of, if the sponsor message is not an interactive message, allowing said consumer access to said media product after said step of facilitating the display of said sponsor message;
a ninth step of, if the sponsor message is an interactive message, presenting at least one query to the consumer and allowing said consumer access to said media product after receiving a response to said at least one query;
a tenth step of recording the transaction event to the activity log, said tenth step including updating the total number of times the sponsor message has been presented; and
an eleventh step of receiving payment from the sponsor of the sponsor message displayed.
As you can see, there are 11 method steps recited in Claim 1, so it is a very detailed claim and it cannot be summarized in a sentence or two.
The history of the case is not easy to summarize either. In short, the District Court found that the subject matter of the patent was not patent eligible and dismissed the district court action before interpreting the claims. In 2011, the Federal Circuit reversed the District Court decision, but the Supreme Court vacated the Federal Circuit’s decision in 2012 based on its recent opinion in Mayo v. Prometheus. And in June of 2013 the Federal Circuit again reversed the District Court decision, leading to WildTangent’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed last week.
WildTangent’s cert petition is attached. I will be discussing the petition and the ongoing patent eligibility battle in more detail in future posts.