Unified Patents Jumps the Shark with Patroll Contest to Invalidate KinectUs Patent

By Steve Brachmann
December 10, 2020

“KinectUs is clearly not an NPE by any reasonable definition of that term. In fact, one could argue that KinectUs is exactly the type of small business that Unified shouldn’t trouble itself with.”

https://depositphotos.com/411230666/stock-photo-businessman-in-pole-vaulting-concept.htmlIn early October, social networking firm KinectUs LLC filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Texas alleging claims of patent infringement by Bumble Trading, LLC, the operator of the popular Bumble dating app. In the suit, KinectUs accused Bumble of infringing upon claims of six patents that protect systems and methods for connecting mobile device users via a collaboration system that enables users to connect with other users based on search parameters like common interests or location data. KinectUs’ infringement allegations focus on Bumble’s platform, which allows mobile device users to connect with others based on similar parameters.

KinectUs’ complaint also includes allegations that Bumble has willfully infringed each of the asserted patents. Specifically, the complaint notes that Bumble cited KinectUs’ U.S. Patent No. 9294428, Systems and Methods for Establishing Communications Between Mobile Devices, in petitions for inter partes review (IPR) at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) filed to challenge patents asserted against Bumble by dating app developer Match Group back in March 2018. Bumble referenced the ‘428 patent in IPR petitions and related expert declarations filed at the PTAB, as well as in preliminary invalidity contentions documentation filed in the district court litigation against Match Group.

Christopher Nordstrom, the lead inventor listed on the ‘428 patent, has been working since 2011 to develop his idea for a location-based social networking platform that connects people for activities while protecting users’ mobile privacy, according to the KinectUs complaint. In 2015, the KinectUs mobile platform was launched and the company continues to make the KinectUs app available through the Apple App Store. In discussing Bumble’s accused instrumentality covered by the ‘428 patent, the KinectUs complaint points out that the Bumble app matches profile data of registered users via a collaboration system that gives users the ability to upload profile data, including interests, and select other registered users who match based on profile data.

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Unified Defines KinectUs as an NPE

While the actual analysis of whether Bumble’s user matching system infringes claims of the ‘428 patent would normally require at least a Markman hearing and some discovery, certain members of the U.S. patent community would prefer to harness the power of crowdsourcing to make this determination. IP litigation risk management firm Unified Patents is hosting a Patroll contest seeking prior art to invalidate the ‘428 patent owned by KinectUs. Unified has dubbed KinectUs a non-practicing entity (NPE) and the contest for invalidating the ‘428 patent offers $3,000 in reward money—an above average award level where Unified’s Patroll contests are concerned.

Unified is well known for keeping its subscriber base a closely guarded secret and it is impossible to draw the conclusion that Unified might be intervening on behalf of a dues-paying member in this particular case. But it does seem oddly altruistic to offer thousands of dollars in bounty to protect the interests of a company that was worth $3 billion as of November 2019 and had 5.03 million users in 2019, the second-largest user base among dating apps behind Tinder.

IPWatchdog reached out to Unified with questions but the company has chosen not to comment at this time.

KinectUs is clearly not an NPE by any reasonable definition of that term. In fact, one could argue that KinectUs is exactly the type of small business that Unified shouldn’t trouble itself with. KinectUs was advertising its patent-pending private browsing system for connecting people based on similar interests back in 2015, just a few months after Bumble spun off its dating platform from Tinder. At its launch, KinectUs was a small business employing a total of 12 staff members including engineers, developers and designers, and five years later it still manages to make its app platform available. How anyone can look at this fact pattern and somehow conclude that KinectUs is a non-practicing entity boggles the mind, unless truly every single patent plaintiff is automatically an NPE, which would be ridiculous.

Why Doesn’t KinectUs Deserve Its Day in Court?

Arguably, KinectUs offers a product that practices all of the elements of claim 1 of the ‘428 patent: the KinectUs app employs a method of establishing communication between mobile devices that involves registering mobile devices with a collaboration system available through the KinectUs app; it determines matches between mobile devices based on profile data; it displays lists of user identifications based on matching profile data to mobile devices registered with the KinectUs app; it provides mobile device users with options for selecting users from the lists of user identifications; and it generates notifications for registered users displaying the location, personal information and other attributes of matching users.

Similarly, Bumble offers matching services that arguably infringe upon claims of the ‘428 patent. As the KinectUs complaint explains, the accused instrumentality that allegedly infringes upon KinectUs’ patent claims includes the Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz platforms, which focus more on connecting individuals based on personal interests and career goals rather than for dating. Bumble users can review multiple profiles for potential matches and “Boom” notifications are provided when registered users on different mobile devices mutually select each other from the displayed profiles. The Date, BFF and Bizz Modes give users First Move privileges to establish communication between mobile device users who match on the Bumble platform. If KinectUs thinks that Bumble’s accused instrumentality infringes on KinectUs’ own patent claims in a way that has caused KinectUs to lose business from its own app platform, then KinectUs deserves its day in court.

Perpetuating a Sloppy Narrative

Unfortunately, Unified Patents’ characterization of KinectUs as an NPE is exactly the kind of sloppy narrative building in which Unified has engaged during recent years. For a long time now, the duplicitous nature of Unified’s comments about the patent system have been on full display and easy for well-informed observers of the U.S. patent system to decipher. It’s already problematic for Unified to conflate NPEs with legitimate tech licensing operations. It’s even worse for Unified to wave thousands of dollars in the air while claiming to deter abusive tactics when even a cursory analysis arguably reveals that there is no such abuse in this particular situation.

To support its own cause, Unified spends money on flawed studies that attempt to paint the PTAB as a boon the U.S. economy, when it’s clear that the PTAB is anything but, especially for the small businesses and independent inventors who should be driving the U.S. economy. Now, with operating company KinectUs in its crosshairs, Unified has truly jumped the shark to the point that it’s difficult to conclude that it seeks to “improve patent quality and deter unsubstantiated or invalid patent assertions” for truly benevolent purposes. If former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Randall Rader is correct in saying that PTAB panels are “death squads killing property rights,” it’s not unreasonable to think of Unified as the type of government officer who kindly goes about his work leading unwitting American small businesses independent inventors en masse to their final resting place.

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The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 15 Comments comments.

  1. Pro Say December 10, 2020 11:04 am

    “We have no shame.”

    — Unified Patents

  2. IPdude December 10, 2020 11:54 am

    They’ve done the same thing to a number of operating startups. Unified Patents is the troll here.

  3. shawn ambwani December 10, 2020 4:09 pm

    Ummmm. 1 review in the Apple app store (1 star btw). They might have had 12 employess way back when but not today. 0, 1, or 2 employees on Linkedin, if any. 1 update of the app in a year. RPX categorized it an NPE too. Bad patent. Walks, talks, and quacks like a duck. BTW, great investigative two step reporting Steve. Really made an effort here to actually figure it out. The funny part is we aren’t even challenging the patent, merely putting a bounty on them for prior art. They can go to court all they want still. But wouldn’t it be better and cheaper for everyone to know if there is some prior art which might be applicable? Instead let’s put our heads in the sand like Steve.
    Talk about sloppy. 🙂

  4. David Lewis December 10, 2020 5:46 pm

    It seems that there are many that just would prefer hat no one have patents (other than them), and for them, everyone else that owns a patent is Troll or NPE.

  5. TFCFM December 11, 2020 9:53 am

    Article: “Unified Defines KinectUs as an NPE

    Article: “Why Doesn’t KinectUs Deserve Its Day in Court?

    One might well turn these questions around and ask:

    – WHO CARES what kind-or-unkind name someone hurls at this company?

    – If a company or its representative believes that an issued patent presents a threat of expensive, meritless litigation to the company, WHY SHOULDN’T the company/representative seek to have the patent knocked over in precisely the administrative review proceedings Congress has provided for that purpose?

  6. SiliconValleyInsider December 11, 2020 10:24 am

    @shawn – how could a company that actively employees people (even 1), that is actively selling a product, and that has updated that product offering in the past 12 months… possibly be considered “non-practicing”?

    Your attempt to re-define “non-practicing” is so nakedly self-serving that your credibility is what ends up buried in the sand.

  7. Anon December 11, 2020 3:03 pm

    credibility….?

    Sorry SVI, that was gone a very long time ago (if indeed it ever was present).

  8. Anon December 11, 2020 3:10 pm

    … and then we have TFCFM, who never met an anti-patent position that he did not like.

    To answer your first question (“WHO CARES what kind-or-unkind name someone hurls at this company?“) the answer at the micro level is: “no one.” But the situation is MORE than merely the micro level, and the “Oh N0es Tr011s” boogeyman story is a much larger taint on protecting innovation — as everyone should be well aware of.

    You seem able to ONLY see a one way picture.

    As to the second question (“WHY SHOULDN’T the company/representative seek to have the patent knocked over in precisely the administrative review proceedings Congress has provided for that purpose?“) the direct answer is an EASY (Rational Actor sense) of “Of course, people should knock over patents in the system Congress has provided.” But that ‘easy’ answer misses the larger point that Congress — badly mis-stepped BY providing the type of proceeding that the Efficient Infringers absolutely love.

    So as you point out, one “might well turn those questions around,” but doing so should NOT be done in a mindless and cavalier manner so as to (attempt) to bury the more salient points underlying the questions already presented.

  9. Curious December 11, 2020 3:16 pm

    Your attempt to re-define “non-practicing” is so nakedly self-serving that your credibility is what ends up buried in the sand.
    Your comment presumes that Mr. Ambwani cares anything about his credibility. His past unabashedly-bigoted comments on this blog does not bear that out.

    Regardless, he is a tool of the efficient infringers … plain and simple.

  10. Pro Say December 11, 2020 3:47 pm

    Beat me to the truth-punch, you did; Anon @ 7.

  11. Josh Malone December 11, 2020 5:59 pm

    The U.S. has been infected with an elitist attitude that we no longer need garage inventors with 0 or 1 or 2 employees. Innovation must be handled by Google, Apple, and mega-wealthy individuals like Elon Musk. Perhaps AI will rescue us. The world is just to complex for small technology startups. Meanwhile, China is democratizing invention.

  12. __t__ December 14, 2020 10:13 am

    @TFCFM: “If a company or its representative believes that an issued patent presents a threat of expensive, meritless litigation…”

    How exactly do you pick and choose which patents have merit, and how can you now contend that the secondary market that has been fueled by “trolls” (e.g., independent inventors) and now propels the bottom line of many large, practicing companies, negatively affects innovation?

    This looks like a legitimate patent with drawings, a hearty spec, and non-skeletal claims. Someone came up with an idea, patented it, and wants to enforce the rights they were granted. Why is this patent “bad”?

    And if names don’t matter, then what if Microsoft, for instance, originally received this patent and then licensed or assigned it to a non-practicing entity? Would that change the opinion? I just don’t understand where the line is drawn now that everyone is playing the same game.

  13. Shawn Ambwani December 14, 2020 7:38 pm

    I’d like to personally thank Brachmann for his great article. I am not sure I understand the objective of discouraging prior art from being published. Regardless, since it posted we have gotten 10 more submissions for this patent. Not an expert but they look pretty spot on. But I guess we will see if there a winner in the end to give the $3000 to. I would encourage IPWatchdog to keep writing articles such as these. They are extremely appreciated. We have a bunch more if anyone is interested in making some cash. Keep up the great work 🙂
    https://patroll.unifiedpatents.com/

  14. Reason&Logic December 17, 2020 10:04 am

    Shawn @13: While Unified Patents has, to date, appeared to avoid the increased scrutiny on RPI by the PTAB (& Courts), it is only a matter of time before their straw-man business model comes crashing down.

    For the sake of American inventors and a predictable Patent system, the sooner the better.

  15. Shawn Ambwani December 18, 2020 12:14 am

    Reason. Asserting crappy patents for money does not make a better system and that continues to happen with heavy frequency. Getting rid of bad ones improves the system and deters abuse. There is no correlation or causation between innovation and making patents harder to kill. Whether the rules around RPI change we are not a strawman and never have been. Look up the definition. We have been through over 200 challenges on this. Finally, the funny part about this article is that we are not even challenging this patent at the PTAB. Merely posting prior art on it (if we do). That is something even a “strawman” has always and can always do. More information is good, not bad in my opinion when deciding on deciding the value of IP. I 🙂