Computerized Dating Service Not Patentable

People Playing Spin the Bottleyenta

Mordechai Teicher filed Israel patent application number IL 171773 for an “Apparatus and Method for Managing Social Games”. The patent seems to be a computerized version of Spin the Bottle, with a couple of twists in that whereas in Spin the Bottle, the paired participants go for a private grope in the broom cupboard, in the present invention some of the dependent claims recite the system including a video camera to convert the dating service into a reality TV show.

The independent claims of the equivalent US patent are as follows:

1. An apparatus for managing a series of social games for a plurality of subscribers, comprising: 
a first database containing a plurality of game assignments; 
a second database containing a personal wish list for each of the subscribers; 
a processor responsive to said second database for: 
i) picking at least one subscriber from the plurality of subscribers, and 
ii) assigning to each of said at least one subscriber a selected game assignment from said first database; and 
an input port for receiving from each of said at least one subscriber, after completion of said selected game assignment, an update to the respective personal wish list, to selectably affect said picking and said assigning with respect to a next social game in the series. 

12. An apparatus for picking two subscribers from a plurality of subscribers for an interpersonal couple game, comprising: 
a second database scoring, for each subscriber of the plurality, the subscriber’s level of interest in individual others from the plurality; and 
a processor responsive to said second database for calculating a mutual attraction for subscriber pair combinations, and making the picking in response to said mutual attraction of the two subscribers. 

21. A method for managing a game from a game series for a participant from a forum of subscribers, comprising: 
receiving a personal wish list from each of the subscribers, said wish list scoring each respective subscriber’s level of interest in other subscribers; 
picking another subscriber as a partner for said participant in accordance with the mutual scores of said participant and said partner in their respective wish lists; 
assigning matched game assignments to the participant and said partner; and 
after completion of the game, receiving from the participant and said partner an update to their respective wish lists, to selectably affect said picking toward a next game in the game series.

31. A method for managing games for a plurality of subscribers with respect to game assignments, comprising: 
receiving from each of said plurality a personal wish list scoring each subscriber’s level of interest in other subscribers and ranking said each subscriber’s level of interest in game assignments; 
picking two subscribers in accordance to their mutual scoring in their respective wish lists; and 
assigning to each of said two subscribers a matched game assignment in accordance to said ranking by said two subscribers. 

36. A method for operating user terminals by a first subscriber for participating in a game within a forum of subscribers, comprising: 
sending a personal wish list scoring the first subscriber’s level of interest in other subscribers from the forum and ranking the subscriber’s level of interest in game assignments; and 
receiving a game assignment with another subscriber, said game assignment being selected in response to said scoring and said ranking made by the first subscriber and said another subscriber. 

37. A system for managing games for a plurality of subscribers, comprising: 
a game generator including: 
i) a first database containing a plurality of game assignments, 
ii) a second database containing a personal wish list for each of said subscribers, and 
iii) a processor responsive to said second database for picking at least one subscriber from the plurality of subscribers and assigning to each of said at least one subscriber a selected game assignment from said first database; and 
a user terminal allocated to each of said at least one subscriber to communicate with said game generator for updating said personal wish list after completion of said selected game assignment.

40. A software product stored on a computer-readable medium to instruct a computer to: 
read a wish-list database scoring the level of interest of each subscriber of a forum in other subscribers from said forum; 
pick two subscribers in accordance with their mutual scoring; 
select two matched game assignments from an assignment database; 
assign to each of said two subscribers a game assignment from said two matched game assignments; and 
receive an update to said wish-list database after completion of said two matched game assignments. 

The claimed system included databases of participants, processors, input and output means and the usual computer paraphernalia. The application issued in the United States as US 7,305,398, with continuations  that also issued, as US 7,849,212 and US 7,769,699.

Following patent office guidelines, the Israel Examiner rejected the application as being addressed to non-patentable subject matter, in that the result claimed was not technological, and the method and system were generic and trivial. On appeal, the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Assa Kling, reviewed the Israel court decisions and patent office rulings of his predecessors, the main decisions and guidelines in the US and Europe, and tried to explain what was considered technical or technological. The ruling is a little long and convoluted, but the bottom line is that there is no result in this case that can be considered technological, and the means of achieving the result wholly lack novelty and inventive step. Since the application was considered directed to non-patentable subject matter, the fact that patents had issued in the US was considered irrelevant, and granting modified allowance under Section 17c was not allowed. The rejection was upheld.

COMMENT

Although it is not easy to follow the Commissioner’s chain of thought, the 33 page ruling does show that he has researched the topic fully and is familiar with the Israel, US and European decisions and guidelines. It is also a good indication of the way the wind is blowing.

I think the decision was a correct one, but the case could have been analyzed in terms of novelty and inventive step without grappling with what is and is not technological. Simply doing what has been done in the past without a computer by a computer is not inventive. Either way, this ruling indicates how the Israel patent office is considering this type of patent application, and, unless someone appeals to the courts and the ruling is overturned, it is fairly clear that systems and processes that computerize new things will not be considered patentable in Israel unless there is something inventive in the methodology.

The intention of the term “technical” or “technological” is still not clearly defined. Then again, neither are the terms “obvious” or  “inventive step”.

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