By Cheryl Beise, J.D.
New York court erred in ruling in favor of Facebook on summary judgment.
The federal district court in New York City erred by finding as a matter of law that Facebook did not infringe three related patents owned by Mirror Worlds Technologies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held. From the evidence presented, a reasonable fact finder could find that the back-end infrastructure systems supporting Facebook’s "News Feed" and "Timeline" features infringed the patents, which are directed to systems and methods for storing and presenting data in time-ordered streams (Mirror Worlds Technologies, LLC v. Facebook, Inc., January 23, 2020, Taranto, R.).
Mirror Worlds Technologies, LLC owns U.S. Patent Nos. 6,006,227 (the ’227 patent), 7,865,538 (the ’538 patent), and 8,255,439 (’439 patent), which describe and claim systems and methods for presenting and storing data in time-ordered streams on a computer system. Mirror Worlds filed suit against Facebook, Inc., alleging that the back-end infrastructure systems supporting Facebook’s "News Feed" and "Timeline" features infringed the ’227, ’538, and ’439 patents. The district court granted Facebook’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement before discovery ended. Mirror Worlds appealed.
Each of the asserted patent claims contains a "main stream" or "main collection" limitation and a "substream" or "subcollection" limitation. A "stream" is "a time-ordered sequence of documents that functions as a diary of a person or an entity’s electronic life. The parties agreed that the "main stream" has two properties: (1) it includes every data unit received or generated by the "computer system"; and (2) it is a time-ordered sequence of data units. A substream is a subset of the main stream, in that each substream document is in the main stream, though a particular document may be in multiple substreams. A user may create "substreams" by filtering the main stream.
Infringement contentions. Mirror Worlds alleged that Facebook infringed the patents-in-suit by using its servers—including the Facebook data store system known as "TAO," which stands for "The Associations and Objects"—to provide features such as News Feed, Timeline, and Activity Log to Facebook users. Facebook's News Feed feature displays for a user of a variety of items that Facebook has "deemed to be relevant" to that user. The Timeline feature focuses on a particular Facebook user, showing "basic information about that user, as well as actions taken on Facebook by or directed toward that user." The Activity Log provides "a list of activities that occurred on Facebook that pertain to a particular user." Facebook’s back-end infrastructure for News Feed product is called "Multifeed." The "Timeline back-end system" supports both the Timeline and Activity Log features. Multifeed has several components, three off which were relevant on appeal: Leaves, Tailer, and Aggregator. The Timeline back-end system includes the TimelineDB database and an Aggregator. TimelineDB has a list of all actions performed by a user.
In its motion for summary judgment of non-infringement, Facebook did not dispute that Leaves and TimelineDB stored their data units in a time-ordered manner, but it contended that Mirror Worlds failed to provide evidence that there was an accused Facebook "computer system" that contained a "main stream" in which all data created or received by the system is stored in a time-ordered sequence. In granting Facebook’s motion for summary judgment, the court determined that the record established conclusively that neither TimelineDB nor Leaves (which Mirror Worlds identified as the accused main streams) contained all the data received or generated by their respective computer system.
On appeal, Mirror Worlds argued that the district court erred in concluding that the record would require a reasonable jury to find that the Aggregators in Multifeed and in the Timeline back-end system receive data from TAO—data that is not included within Leaves or TimelineDB. The Federal Circuit agreed with Mirror Worlds.
News Feed feature. Regarding News Feed and its back-end system, Multifeed, the district court concluded that the record required a finding that the Aggregator "draws the actual content that is indexed by the ‘Multifeed Leaves’ from ‘TAO,’ and receives information from ‘TAO.’" The court relied on the statements of two Facebook engineers, Dr. Bronson and Dr. Vickery. However, the district court erred in concluding that a reasonable jury would have to find that the Multifeed Aggregator receives data from TAO that is not in Leaves, the appeals court said. For example, the Bronson statement did not say that TAO delivers content to the Multifeed Aggregator (in the back-end system). It stated only that the content is delivered to the front-end features, including News Feed. The actual statement was consistent with Mirror Worlds’ theory of the case, and it did not establish that the identified data from TAO is received by the accused "computer system" (the back-end system)—which was the reason for the district court’s determination that Leaves, in the back-end system, cannot be a main stream (because that TAO data is not included in Leaves). The Federal Circuit reached a similar conclusion as to Dr. Vickery’s testimony. The court noted that Dr. Vickery’s testimony did not establish that the Multifeed Aggregator retrieved the cited information from TAO. "In fact, other testimony from Dr. Vickery suggests that TAO is queried by a part of the front-end system called the PHP layer (PHP being a scripting language)," the court said. Therefore, the evidence did not establish that the Multifeed Aggregator receives content from TAO that is not in Leaves. That erroneous conclusion was the sole basis for the grant of summary judgment as to News Feed.
Timeline feature. The Federal Circuit reached a similar conclusion with regard to Timeline. The district court found that a reasonable jury would have to find that the Timeline Aggregator receives data from TAO that is not in TimelineDB. The court cited the declaration of Dr. Bronson; Mirror Worlds’ response to Facebook’s statement of material facts; and the testimony of Jeffrey Huang, a Facebook engineer. According to the Federal Circuit, the record evidence did not compel a reasonable jury to find that the Timeline Aggregator receives the asserted data from TAO. Dr. Bronson’s statement did not show that the Timeline Aggregator receives the cited data from TAO. Facebook did not pointed to anything in the Mirror Worlds’ response that supported the district court’s crucial determination about interaction between the Timeline Aggregator and TAO, the court observed. Mr. Huang’s testimony also failed to show that the Timeline Aggregator is the element of Facebook’s infrastructure that receives the referred-to content from TAO. Instead, Mr. Huang’s testimony is consistent with the theory that front-end systems receive that content without the content having first gone through the accused (back-end) system. On the current record evidence, the district court erred in concluding that a reasonable jury would have to find that the Timeline Aggregator receives data from TAO that is not in TimelineDB. That erroneous conclusion was the sole basis for the grant of summary judgment as to Timeline.
Other grounds for noninfringement. Facebook asked the court to affirm the noninfringement judgment on two other grounds. However, at this stage the Federal Circuit declined to adopt Facebook’s alternative arguments for affirmance.
Facebook first argued that it was entitled to summary judgment on the ground that Mirror Worlds failed to provide evidence that would permit a jury to find that Leaves or TimelineDB contains every data unit received or generated by Multifeed or the Timeline back-end system. However, Facebook bore the burden of proof on summary judgment. Yet Facebook did not show that Mirror Worlds "cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden" to show that Leaves or TimelineDB contains every data unit. Given that discovery is still open, Mirror Worlds may still muster evidence to prove its claim, the court noted.
Second, Facebook pointed to certain information that it argued is received by the two back-end systems that is not included in Leaves or TimelineDB: information from Ad-finder and Ego for Multifeed; certain query criteria for the Timeline back-end system. While Facebook mentioned these points at the oral argument before the district court, it did not present them in its motion or even its reply in the district court. This left Mirror Worlds without a fair opportunity to address them, the Federal Circuit said.
The Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
The case is No. 2018-2276.
Attorneys: Marc Aaron Fenster (Russ August & Kabat) for Mirror Worlds Technologies, LLC. Heidi Lyn Keefe (Cooley LLP) for Facebook, Inc.
Companies: Mirror Worlds Technologies, LLC; Facebook, Inc.
MainStory: TopStory Patent FedCirNews
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