It took more than seven years, but a federal judge in Boston today ruled that a former Boston Phoenix subsidiary that outlasted the alt-media company does not own the rights to methods for creating and securing Web pages out of information uploaded by users.
As the Phoenix was slowly dying - Phoenix Media was dissolved as a corporate entity last year - Stephen Mindich's Tele-Publishing, Inc. emerged as a provider of online personals services. In its suit, filed in 2009, the Newton-based TPI charged Facebook's method of letting users create profiles and determine who could see them violated a patent it had won for building online profile pages.
But in a scorching ruling, US District Judge Douglas Woodlock invalidated Tele-Publishing's patent, saying that far from proving an innovative solution to a 21st-century problem - how to limit who can see a user's profile - the company basically recreated a technique nightclubs have used for generations to ensure only certain people get in: Essentially, a list.
"The claims rely on generic technologies, such as web browsers, URLs, HTTP servers, and HTML pages, which are not sufficiently inventive, in and of themselves, to render the claims non-abstract," Woodlock begins, in his analysis of the Tele-Publishing patent:
The security feature of the claims involves three steps: 1) the user enters the name of a person who will be given access, 2) the system stores the name in a list, 3) the system compares a visiting user's name to the list and grants access if the user's name is on the list. Such a basic security measure is not a sufficiently inventive concept. ...
Here, the security feature similarly recites steps that could be performed using a pencil and paper or the human mind. A host of an event checking names on a guest list or recalling from memory who had been invited to the party would appear to employ the same security feature recited in the claims. ...
TPI presents the claims as an "Internet-centric solution" to an Internet problem, but talismanic invocations of the Internet will not alone transform an abstract idea.