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Bridge and Post, Inc. v. Verizon Communications, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 15, 2018



          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This case involves technology that helps businesses pry into peoples' personal preferences and privacy. Advertisers use targeted marketing techniques to place advertisements in places likely to reach interested consumers. For example, advertisers for pizza buy commercials during football games and advertisers for diapers buy ads in parenting magazines. This time-tested technique has migrated to the internet, where advertisers have used cookies, which track a user's internet browsing, to tailor advertisements to a person's interests based on their browsing habits. Cookies, however, do not do a good job of tracking consumer preferences, because internet users can mask or hide their cookies. Public resistance to spying has led technology companies to look for new ways to look over peoples' shoulders as they browse the internet. This case involves such high-tech snooping.

         The plaintiff, Bridge and Post, Inc. ("Bridge and Post"), says that the defendants ("Verizon") have infringed on three of its targeted marketing patents. The first patent uses a persistent, unchangeable identifier associated with an internet-enabled device such as a computer or phone to track internet users and surpass cookies' limitations. The second patent enables advertisers to use that persistent identifier while still protecting people's personal information. The third patent tags internet traffic with an identifier to track a particular end user through an encrypted process. The defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that the patents are directed toward abstract ideas and do not offer a sufficiently inventive step to warrant patentability.

         The Court agrees. The patents focus on the abstract ideas of targeted marketing, the transfer of encrypted information, and tracking. The patents do not offer a sufficiently inventive step over prior art, and instead use conventional technology and methods that fall short of patentability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bridge and Post owns the three patents in suit, U.S. Patent No. 7, 657, 594 (the '"594 Patent"), U.S. Patent No. 8, 862, 747 (the '"747 Patent"), and U.S. Patent No. 9, 659, 314 (the '"314 Patent").

         For the '594 Patent, the defendants say that Claim 1 is representative of the other claims, and Bridge and Post does not object to that characterization in its opposition brief.[1] Claim 1 reads:

         A method for providing directed media to a user on a network, comprising:

receiving a request from the user to access a content provider web site over a network through a network access device operated by the user;
retrieving a persistent device identifier of the network access device;
determining a current network address of the network access device and one or more characteristics of the access device, wherein the current network address is assigned to the network access device by a network service provider for a present network access session;
retrieving historic information for the user, the historic information including patterns of usage for the network access device, and wherein the historic information comprises network access information including times and locations of network access and number of previous network accesses by the network access device;
retrieving location-centric information for a location from which the user is accessing the network;
generating a user profile based on the historic information for the user, the location-centric information, and the one or more characteristics of the access device;
storing the user profile as a record that identifies the user through the current network address and the persistent device identifier associated with the network access device;
incorporating into the user profile one or more group characteristics identifying a group with which the user is associated;
assigning a group identifier to the group based on the patterns of usage;
analyzing the retrieved device identifier, historic information, and location-centric information to determine a directed media component to be provided to the user or the group on the network access device[;] and
placing directed media referenced by the directed media component in the web site requested by the user request from the content provider, wherein the directed media comprises content that is customized to the user based on the user profile.

         ('594 Patent, Dk. No. 1-1.) To put the claims in plain English, the patent teaches a system that uses an unchangeable identifier associated with each internet-connected device to track the device's internet browsing history and physical location. The system uses that data to create a profile for the device, assign the device to a group based on the profile, and direct targeted advertisements to the device based on the profile and the group.

         Before the invention claimed in the '594 Patent, internet advertisers used two techniques to target consumers. First, they used a computer's Internet Protocol (IP) address, but the address provided only a rough estimate of the computer's location and did not provide demographic information. Next, advertisers used cookies, which store a user's web browsing history as they surf the web, but which users can disable or delete. The '594 Patent claimed an innovation over prior systems by using a persistent identifier associated with each internet-connected device that a user cannot change and which provides detailed geographic and demographic information.

         The ability to track an internet user's browsing history as claimed in the '594 Patent created the issue protecting people's personal information in the process. ...

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