Twitter tweets triumph;
Jury finds no infringement,
Patent invalid

Microblogging site Twitter has won a federal jury trial in a patent infringement case in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The case, VS Technologies v. Twitter Inc., was brought by the owner of US patent number 6,408,309, filed in 2000 and issued in 2002, for:

A method and system for creating an interactive virtual community of famous people, or those people who wish to attain the status of a famous person, in a field of endeavor, such as arts, accounting, animal rights, business, education, engineering, entertainment, financing, government affairs, human rights, legal, medical, philanthropy, politics, religion, research, science, sports, etc. The virtual community of the present invention is unique in that the members of the virtual community can update, modify or revise their individual profile, and interact with other members of the virtual community, as well as the non-members of the virtual community.

Twitter owes much of its popularity to celebrity tweets by people like Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres.

The plaintiff company, owned by a patent attorney named as the inventor on the patent, apparently never used the patented method in the almost 10 years since the patent was issued.

The Virginia jury found that not only was Twitter not liable for infringement but that the patent itself was invalid for lack of novelty.

The complaint, filed in January, 2011, had alleged that Twitter “creates and makes publicly available, interactive, virtual communities and profiles of people in various fields of endeavor” in violation of the ‘309 patent.

In its defense, Twitter relied upon the recent US Supreme Court case of

Bilski v. Kappos, which held that a process is patentable if it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus or transforms a particular article into a different state or thing.

Twitter cited the Federal Circuit case of CyberSource Corp. v. Retail Decisions, Inc., which held that practicing a patent method “over the internet” did not tie the process to a particular machine. The circuit court found that the internet is not in itself a “machine” but rather an “abstraction” comprising a network of machines.

Twitter also argued that the ‘309 patent failed to satisfy Bilski’s “transformation” prong because the method described in the patent merely organized data but did not “transform” it.

And Twitter contended that the method in the ‘309 patent was indistinguishable from prior art relating to online communities. The jury agreed.