Why couldn't Bumble swipe away Tinder's patent lawsuit on a motion to dismiss?
Heated competitor cases are commonplace in the patent litigation world. Especially where one company is publicly-traded and the other wants to issue an IPO of its own. That is the dynamic in the patent/trade secret dispute between Match Group, owner of the hugely popular app Tinder, and Bumble. The latter has expressed plans to go public in the near future, but those efforts have been complicated by the IP salvo launched by Match against it earlier this year. While Bumble has since counter-sued on its own trade secret claim, there is no doubt that the Tinder patent lawsuit remains a overhang on the company’s plans to raise outside capital.
In response to Tinder’s lawsuit, Bumble filed a motion to dismiss seeking to have Tinder’s patent claims dismissed from the case. Bumble argued that the two Tinder patents asserted were actually directed to inventions that were patent-ineligible, because they were directed to abstract ideas of matchmaking and picking cards, rather than technological advances worthy of patents. Motions of the type filed by Bumble are typically referred to as Alice motions, based on the Supreme Court decision on patent eligibility. They have become de rigueur in patent cases involving apps and web-based functionality, and have generally proven an effective tool for alleged infringers to get rid of patent claims against them early on in cases.
Here, however, Bumble was not so lucky. In a decision dated December 18, the Hon. Alan D. Albright of the Western District of Texas decided that Tinder’s patents were not directed to the abstract idea of matchmaking and were thus eligible for patenting. Instead, the court found that the Tinder patents were actually directed to technological improvements in user interfaces for dating applications. In short, the Tinder patents that claim the notorious “swiping gesture” fall within the category of allowable subject matter, improvements to user interfaces that offer a concrete benefit to users. In Tinder and Bumble’s case, the speed with which users can scroll through potential matches by swiping is that benefit, and Tinder’s patents on the technology survived a motion to dismiss.
All is not lost for Bumble, however, even after this setback. Yes, they have failed to get a clean early win, which will mean that absent early settlement they are in for an expensive defense against Tinder’s claims. But they will still have opportunity to demonstrate that Tinder’s patents are invalid — both in the District Court and via IPR’s in the USPTO. They also have their own counterclaims to use as leverage over Match. At the same time, Match will be heartened that the Tinder patents have survived this key initial hurdle, and that the case will proceed towards discovery and trial. We can expect more developments in this dispute as things move ahead.