Mantis Communications, LLC v. Baskin-Robbins Franchising, LLC et al

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS re [20] MOTION to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim filed by Baskin-Robbins Franchised Shops, LLC, Papa Murphy's International, LLC, Regal Entertainment Group, Inc, Regal CineMedia Corporation, Papa Murphy's Company Stores, Inc, Regal Cinemas, Inc, Papa Murphy's Holdings, Inc, Murphy's Marketing Services, Inc, Baskin-Robbins Franchising, LLC, Culver Franchising System, Inc., [11] MOTION to Dismiss Baskin-Robbins Franchising LLC and Baskin-Robbins Franchised Shops LLC's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim filed by Baskin-Robbins Franchised Shops, LLC, Baskin-Robbins Franchising, LLC. Signed by Magistrate Judge Roy S. Payne on 9/15/2017.

Eastern District of Texas, txed-2:2017-cv-00328

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS MARSHALL DIVISION MANTIS COMMUNICATIONS, LLC, § § v. § Case No. 2:17-CV-00328-JRG-RSP (Lead) § BASKIN-ROBBINS FRANCHISING, § LLC, BASKIN-ROBBINS FRANCHISED § SHOPS, LLC § REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION In April of this year, Mantis Communications, LLC ("Mantis") filed patent infringement lawsuits against the owners of various retail franchises. The same seven patents (the "patents-in-suit")1 were asserted against each defendant, prompting the Court to consolidate the defendants into a lead case until trial.2 The patents relate to delivering content to customers’ mobile devices. The defendants, according to Mantis, operate websites, apps, and point-of-sale systems covered by the patents. A Baskin-Robbins’ customer, for example, can text "BR" to "31310" from a mobile device to receive Baskin-Robbins text messages concerning marketing promotions such as coupons or special offers. See, e.g., Dkt. 16-8 at 3-10. Mantis alleges that delivering this type of marketing content to a customer’s mobile device is claimed by the patents-in-suit. 1 U.S. Patent Nos. 7,403,788 ("the'788 Patent"), 7,792,518 " (the'518 Patent"), 8,131,262 ("the'262 Patent"), 8,437,784 ("the'784 Patent"), 8,761,732 ("the'732 Patent"), 8,938,215 ("the'215 Patent"), and 9,092,803 ("the'803 Patent") 2 Baskin-Robbins Franchising, LLC, Baskin-Robbins Franchised Shops, LLC ("Baskin-Robbins"), Case No. 2:17-cv-00328 (Lead Case); Culver Franchising System, Inc. ("Culver"), Case No. 2:17-cv-00324; Edible Arrangements, LLC, Edible Arrangements International, LLC ("Edible Arrangements"), Case No. 2:17-cv-00325; Regal Cinemas, Inc., Regal CineMedia Corporation, Regal Entertainment Group, Inc. ("Regal"), Case No. 2:17-00327; Papa Murphy’s Holdings, Inc., Papa Murphy’s International, LLC, Murphy’s Marketing Services, Inc., and Papa Murphy’s Company Stores, Inc. ("Papa Murphy’s"), Case No. 2:17-cv-00327. 1 The defendants have moved to dismiss the lawsuits under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The asserted claims, according to the defendants, relate to the abstract idea of sending, receiving, and redeeming or validating marketing offers, and the claims fail to transform this abstract idea into an inventive concept. Thus, the defendants argue, the claims are not subject-matter eligible under 35 U.S.C § 101. The Court agrees. Mantis’s lawsuits should be dismissed. BACKGROUND The patents-in-suit share an identical specification, are continuations of one another, name the same five inventors, and are each entitled, "System and Method to Initiate a Mobile Data Communication Using a Trigger System." Amd. Compl. ¶ 4, Dkt. 16. The patents acknowledge that it was known in the prior art that promotional offers could be sent to a user’s mobile device through text messages. See, e.g.,'788 patent at 3:1-20. It was also known that a user could text a short code to an organization to trigger a subscription to ongoing mass communication from the organization. Id. at 3:10-20. The problem, as the patents describe it, was that the organization could not easily broadcast messages to users with different wireless carriers (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) in countries that lack standardized service access codes, such as the United States. See id. at 3:21-32; Amd. Compl. ¶¶ 11-34, Dkt. 16. The patents describe and claim a purported solution to this problem. Whereas prior art methods were allegedly limited to messaging capabilities of the mobile device and mobile device carriers, the patents describe an "external trigger system" that links a user’s mobile device to a message application server. See, e.g.,'788 patent at 5:1-7. As soon as the trigger system links the message application server to the mobile device, future communications can be sent from the server to the user through text message. See, e.g., id. at 5:8-36. Claim 1 of the'788 patent describes the alleged invention as follows: 2 A system for enabling targeted content delivery to a mobile device, said mobile device having a device address, said device address having associated therewith at least one unique identifier, said system comprising: a message application server; and a trigger system in communication with said message application server, said trigger system comprising: a trigger client component configured to generate a trigger signal comprising a trigger action, user content request data and said at least one unique identifier; and a trigger server component in communication with said trigger client component, said trigger server component configured to: receive said trigger signal, and send to said message application server said trigger signal for processing by said message application server; wherein said message application server is configured to: receive from said trigger system said trigger signal, and in response thereto: derive said mobile device address from said at least one unique identifier, generate content based on said user request data, and send said generated content to said device address of said mobile device; an offer application component: an offer entry system in communication with said offer application component, and an offer database in communication with said offer application component for storing said generated content and said user request data, wherein said offer entry system is configured to: redeem said generated content, generate content redemption information comprising said redeemed content, and send said content redemption information to said offer application component for storage in said offer database.'788 patent at 15:45-16:13 (emphasis added). The bolded claim elements are described in the specification as being any known device or component that can accomplish the claimed function. The "message application server" is described as "any computing server designed to process messages." Id. at 9:25-27. The "trigger system" is "any system capable of capturing a unique identifier," id. at 7:10-18, which, according to the specification, were well known, id. at 1:50-53. The "mobile device" is "any device a user can carry along with him that is capable of receiving data messages." Id. at 10:21-24. The "offer 3 application component" and "offer database" are described as a system for creating coupons and promotional offers and a server that can store the associated data, both of which were "known to those of skill in the art." Id. at 10:62-65, 11:55-57, 7:43-49. DISCUSSION A patent may be obtained for "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." 35 U.S.C. § 101. One exception is that "[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable." Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 2107, 2116 (2013) (quoting Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 132 S.Ct. 1289, 1293 (2012)). In assessing subject-matter eligibility, a court must "first determine whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept." Alice Corp. Pty Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 134 S.Ct. 2347, 2355 (2014). If the claims are directed to an ineligible concept, the court must then "consider the elements of each claim both individually and'as an ordered combination’ to determine whether the additional elements'transform the nature of the claim’ into a patent-eligible application." Id. (quoting Mayo, 132 S.Ct. at 1298, 1297). Evaluating what a claim is "directed to" under step one of Alice is not an exact science. See, e.g., Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., No. 2016-2254, 2017 WL 3481288, at *3 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 15, 2017). The task, as relevant in a case such as this, is to determine the "focus" of the claims, and whether, for example, the claims are "directed to an improvement to computer functionality versus being directed to an abstract idea." Id. (quoting Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 2016)). "[T]he key question is'whether the focus of the claims is on the specific asserted improvement in computer capabilities (i.e., the self-referential 4 table for a computer database) or, instead, on a process that qualifies as an'abstract idea’ for which computers are invoked merely as a tool.’" Id., at *3 (quoting Enfish, 822 F.3d at 1335-36). Claim 1 of the'788 patent, which is representative of all the claims, as shown in Exhibit A to Defendants’ motion, Dkt. 20-1, is directed to mass promotion of marketing and business information (or "content"). The preamble itself highlights "targeted content delivery," and each claim element is recited in broad, almost functional terms, in stark contrast to the claims at issue in Enfish or Visual Memory. The specification lays any doubt to rest by describing each physical aspect of the claim as "any device" or "well known." In other words, the claim combines known computer and mobile device-related technology to implement the equivalent of what could be done through advertising flyers or a catalogue subscription. See buySAFE, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 756 F.3d 1350, 1351-52 (Fed. Cir. 2014); Motivation Innovations v. PetSmart, Inc., 156 F. Supp. 3d 558, 568 (D. Del. 2016). As for step two of Alice, the specification suggests that the claims lack an inventive concept given that any known device or component can be used, and Mantis has not argued that the arrangement of the known devices provides an inventive concept. See In re TLI Communications LLC Patent Litigation, 823 F.3d 607, 615 (Fed. Cir. 2016). The claims are analogous to many of the claims evaluated in cases described at length in Defendants’ brief, and the details need not be fully recounted here. See, e.g., Dkt. 20. Mantis’s arguments to the contrary are not persuasive. With respect to step one, Mantis argues that the claims are not abstract because they are directed to a problem rooted in mobile device technology, namely the problem associated with linking mobile devices to a mass communication server across different wireless carriers. The claims in the asserted patents, however, are not so narrowly confined. The nexus between the claims and the purported problem 5 is not tailored enough to take the claims away from the abstract idea. Cf. Visual Memory, No. 2016-2254, 2017 WL 3481288. This conclusion is supported by the fact that there may be a concrete implementation of the inventors’ solution, but that narrow implementation is described and claimed in two patents that are not asserted in these lawsuits, U.S. Patent Nos. 8,051,132 and 8,923,902. With respect to step two, the Court asked Mantis’s counsel at the hearing about whether it was the claimed devices or the arrangement of those devices that provided an inventive concept, and Mantis’s counsel responded that it was the "message application server" that was inventive. That server, however, as the specification makes clear, is "any computing server designed to process messages."'788 patent at 9:25-27. Mantis’s counsel also referred to the "trigger system," but that too is described by the specification in unlimited terms. There would be no basis, as Mantis argues, for importing limitations from the specification to narrow the construction of such terms, and thus there is no need for claim construction. CONCLUSION The claims of the patents-in-suit recite subject matter that is not eligible for patenting under § 101. The patents are therefore invalid, and Mantis’s complaints should be dismissed. Accordingly, It is RECOMMENDED:3 (1) The pending motions4 to dismiss for lack of subject matter eligibility should be granted. 3 A party’s failure to file written objections to the findings, conclusions, and recommendations contained in this report within fourteen days after being served with a copy shall bar that party from de novo review by the district judge of those findings, conclusions, and recommendations and, except on grounds o