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TS Patents LLC v. Yahoo! Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

September 1, 2017

TS PATENTS LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
YAHOO! INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS RE: DKT. NO. 17

          LUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff TS Patents LLC (“TS Patents” or “Plaintiff”) filed a patent infringement suit against Defendant Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo” or “Defendant”) and alleged that Defendant infringed the claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 9, 280, 547 (the “'547 patent”), 8, 799, 473 (the “'473 patent”), 8, 713, 442 (the “'442 patent'”), and 8, 396, 891 (the “'891 patent”) (collectively, the “Asserted Patents”). Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, which seeks to dismiss all four Asserted Patents. ECF No. 17 (“Mot.”). Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Parties

         Plaintiff TS Patents is a California limited liability company with its registered office in Fremont, California. ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 2. Defendant Yahoo! is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Sunnyvale, California. Compl. ¶ 3.

         2. The Asserted Patents

         a. '547 Patent

         The '547 patent is titled “System and Method for Displaying and Operating Multi-Layered Item List in Browser with Supporting of Concurrent Users.” Compl., Ex. E ('547 patent). It was filed on June 10, 2013 and issued on March 8, 2016.

         The '547 patent generally relates to allowing an “end-user to view and operate computing resources through [a] logically organized and graphically represented multi-layered item list” or “hierarchical list.” '547 patent, Abstract. This hierarchical list is displayed to the end-user through a web browser, and can be expanded or collapsed so that the web browser does not have to display the entire hierarchy at once. Id., Abstract, col. 11:45-50, col. 12:1-13. The hierarchical list can be used to represent a variety of remote computing resources, such as folders and files stored on a remote server. Id., Abstract. For example, Figure 6B illustrates a hierarchical list that is used to represent folders and files stored on a remote server:

         (Image Omitted)

Id., Fig. 6B.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant infringes at least claim 1 of the '547 patent. Compl., Ex. J. Claim 1 recites:

A server supporting a plurality of users access to remote folder structures, the server comprising:
memory, and non-transitory computer-readable medium comprising program code which, being executed by the server, configures the server to:
create a first per user-session hierarchical list in the memory for a user session initiated via a first end-user device by a first one of the users for access to a folder structure served by the server, the first hierarchical list representing the folder structure in a reduced form, the folder structure comprising one or more folders, where each of the one or more folders is used for holding at least one data object,
send a user interface comprising the first hierarchical list to the first end-user device to be displayed thereon, the displayed first hierarchical list being navigated by the first one of the users to request access to the folder structure;
process the request for access to the folder structure received from the first end-user device, wherein the program code to process the request includes to update the folder structure, and also update the first hierarchical list in the memory to reflect the updated folder structure in accordance to the request,
wherein the server sends an updated user interface comprising the updated first hierarchical list to the first end-user device to be displayed thereon during the user session, and deletes the first hierarchical list from the memory in response to exit of the user session.

Id., col. 14:52-15:15.

         b. '473 Patent

         The '473 patent is titled “Concurrent Web Based Multi-task Support for Computer System.” Compl., Ex. D ('473 patent). It was filed on March 4, 2008 and issued on August 5, 2014. It is a continuation of U.S. Patent No. 7, 418, 702, which was filed on August 6, 2002.

         The '473 patent generally relates to “web based multitasking.” '473 patent, Abstract. According to the '473 patent, traditional web servers “d[id] not support multiple concurrent tasks or operations submitted from the same web browser.” Id., col. 2:18-20. Instead, a previous task had to be completed until the next could be performed. Id., col. 2:24-34.

         The '473 patent purports to solve this problem by providing a way in which tasks initiated from a web browser can be performed in parallel. Id., col. 2:35-37. It accomplishes this by keeping track of the initiated tasks, such as through a “user space task list, ” and protecting this task list with a lock. Id., col. 2:46-49. A “[l]ock is a mechanism that allows a thread[1] to lo[c]k a computer resource for its own use and prevents other threads from access to the same computer resource at the same time.” Id., col. 3:16-19. The '473 specification discloses that, when a user initiates a task from a web browser, “[a] thread is created . . . where the thread will serve and carry [out] this task in the background.” Id., col. 6:43-45. The thread then obtains the lock for the task list, modifies the task list to add the new task to the list, and releases the lock. Id., col. 6:45-47, Fig. 5. The thread corresponding to this task is then executed concurrently with other threads corresponding to other tasks in the task list. See id., col. 6:47-50. After the task completes, the thread again obtains the lock for the task list, removes the task from the task list, and then releases the lock. See id., col. 6:57-59.

         The specification also discloses that, in addition to the task list, shared resources which may be accessed by multiple threads (which, as discussed above, are each created to execute separate tasks) are protected by locks. Id., col. 6:54-56, col. 6:64-7:4. To modify a shared resource, a thread must obtain the lock for that shared resource, modify that shared resource, and then release the lock. Id. If a second thread also wants to modify that same shared resource, it must wait until the first thread releases the lock so that the second thread can then obtain the lock and modify the shared resource. Id., col. 6:64-7:4.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant infringes at least claim 1 of the '473 patent. Compl., Exs. H, I. Claim 1 recites:

1. A server supporting access to resources, the server comprising: at least one hardware processor, and a network interface; wherein the server is configure to perform followings:
causing display of information about resources organized by the server in a web browser on a first end-user device;
receiving a first request, for access a first resource, from the first end-user device upon a first user selecting the first resource from the information displayed on the first end-user device and submitting the first request;
storing information about the first request and invoking a lock protection to protect the storing of the first request;
processing the first request, including to process the first request in the background and cause the display of the information about the resources without blocking in the web browser during a regular network traffic to allow the first user selecting a second resource from the information displayed on the first end-user device and submitting a second request for access to the second resource without waiting for the completion of the first request; and deleting the stored information about the first request when the first request is completed.

Id., col. 9:8-10:4.

         c. '442 and '891 Patents

         The '442 patent is titled “Method and Apparatus for Information Exchange Over a Web Based Environment.” Compl., Ex. C ('442 patent). It was filed on April 5, 2011 and issued on April 29, 2014. It claims priority to a provisional application, which was filed on March 31, 2006. The '442 patent is also a divisional application of U.S. Patent Application No. 11/732, 496 (“the '496 application”), which was filed on April 2, 2007.

         The '891 patent is titled “Method and Apparatus of Dynamic Updating Web Portals.” Compl., Ex. B ('891 patent). It was filed on December 14, 2011 and issued on March 12, 2013. It is a continuation of U.S. Patent Application No. 12/511, 039, which was filed on July 29, 2009 and which is in turn a continuation-in-part of the '496 application, mentioned above.

         Typical of patents that share a common lineage, the '442 and the '891 patents have identical figures and substantially similar written descriptions. Compare '442 patent, col. 3:53- 21:67, with '891 patent, col. 5:27-28:40. The Court will thus overview these patents together.

         The '442 and '891 patents generally relate to a communication platform over which users can share information and resources, such as folders and files. '442 patent, Abstract; '891 patent, Abstract. In particular, the specifications disclose a “web-based computer user work/operation environment (‘WCUWE'), ” which provides a centrally controlled collection of “work spaces, ” which are either private to a specific user or shared among groups of users. '442 patent, col. 10:31-11:16; '891 patent, 15:4-54. Each work space can store messages, folders, files, or other resources specific to that work space. Id. Figures 4B and 4C illustrate shared and private work spaces, respectively:

         (Image Omitted)

'442 patent, Figs. 4B, 4C; '891 patent, Figs. 4B, 4C.

         A user can access the private and shared work spaces to which he belongs through a web browser. '442 patent, col. 12:5-17; '891 patent, col. 17:15-29. Through the web browser, the user can also post and un-post messages, folders, and files to a work space, as well as move folders and files from one workspace to another. Id. For example, Figure 6A illustrates a web page where user X can access messages, folders, and files in both his private space and also in the shared space belonging to user-group-1, a group to which he belongs:

         (Image Omitted)

'442 patent, Fig. 6A; '891 patent, Fig. 6A.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant infringes at least claim 9 of the '442 patent. Compl., Ex. G. Claim 9 recites:

A server in a collaboration system supporting virtual presentation between a plurality of users, the server comprising:
at least one hardware processor, and program code which, when executed by the at least one hardware processor, causes the server to:
display a first user interface comprising metadata of files and folders, residing in the server or in at least one computing device, on a first end-user device to allow a first user selecting one selected file or one selected folder from the metadata displayed and requesting the metadata of the selected file or folder to be posted to a second user interface;
store the metadata information, but not content, of the selected file or the selected folder according to the request for the posting received from the first end-user device; and
display to a second user the stored metadata of the selected file or the selected folder including to display a graphic indicator of the selected file or folder in the second user interface on a second end-user device to allow the second user access to the content of the selected file or selected folder through the stored metadata displayed in the second user interface.

'442 patent, col. 23:4-27.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant infringes at least claim 1 of the '891 patent. Compl., Ex. F. Claim 1 recites:

1. A computing device comprising a processor, memory and program code which, when executed by the processor, configures the device to:
(i) display a user interface to each of a first user and a second user to share information, wherein each of the user interfaces comprises, for each of the first and second users, (a) a private section configured to display information about files or folders available for the user to share and (b) a common section configured to display information about files or folders shared with the user;
(ii) share a file or folder selected, from the available files or folders, by the first user with the second user by (a) allowing the first user to identify the file or folder in the private section on the first user's interface, which is not viewable by the second user, (b) unlocking a protection mechanism of the file or folder to allow access to the second user, (c) storing information about the file or folder, without the content of the file or folder, in a common work place accessible to both the first user and the second user, and (d) displaying information about the file or folder in the common section on the second user's interface, wherein the second user can access the file or folder through the displayed information; and
(iii) stop sharing of a file or folder to the second user that the first user has previously shared with the second user by (a) deleting information about the file or folder displayed in the common section on the second user's interface, (b) deleting information about the file or folder that has been stored in the common work place, and (c) locking the protection mechanism to rescind access to the second user.

'891 patent, col. 28:42-29:5.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant may move to dismiss an action for failure to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Nonetheless, the Court is not required to “‘assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.'” Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981)). Mere “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004); accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, “‘a plaintiff may plead [him]self out of court'” if he “plead[s] facts which establish that he cannot prevail on his . . . claim.” Weisbuch v. Cty. of L.A., 119 F.3d 778, 783 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Warzon v. Drew, 60 F.3d 1234, 1239 (7th Cir. 1995)).

         B. Motions to Dismiss for Patent Validity Challenges Under 35 U.S.C. § 101

         Defendant's Motion asserts that the Asserted Patents fail to claim patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, 134 S.Ct. 2347 (2014). Whether a claim recites patent-eligible subject matter under § 101 is a question of law. In re Roslin Inst. (Edinburgh), 750 F.3d 1333, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“Section 101 patent eligibility is a question of law[.]”); Dealertrack, Inc. v. Huber, 674 F.3d 1315, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (same). Accordingly, a district court may resolve the issue of patent eligibility under § 101 by way of a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Content Extraction & Transmission LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat. Ass'n, 776 F.3d 1343, 1345 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (affirming determination of ineligibility made on 12(b)(6) motion); Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC, 772 F.3d 709, 713 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (same); see also buySAFE, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 765 F.3d 1350, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (affirming determination of ineligibility made on motion for judgment on the pleadings).

         Although claim construction is often desirable, and may sometimes be necessary, to resolve whether a patent claim is directed to patent-eligible subject matter, the Federal Circuit has explained that “claim construction is not an inviolable prerequisite to a validity determination under § 101.” Bancorp Servs., L.L.C. v. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Can. (U.S.), 687 F.3d 1266, 1273-74 (Fed. Cir. 2013). Where the court has a “full understanding of the basic character of the claimed subject matter, ” the question of patent eligibility may properly be resolved on the pleadings. Content Extraction, ...


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