Alice in Patentland Laws & Processes

Alice in Patentland: Affinity v. Netflix

Plaintiff Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC
Defendant Netflix, Inc.
Case 1:15-cv-849-RP
Court Western District of Texas Austin Division
Judge Robert Pitman (United States District Judge)
Motion Motion to Dismiss
Decision DENIED
Decision Date May 6, 2016

Background – Netflix challenged Affinity Labs’ U.S. Patent No. 9,094,802 stating that its claims simply recite a well-known idea of segmenting and formatting data for communication at different rates. Accordingly, Netflix argued that the patent is directed at patent-ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

Technology Involved: The US’802 patent discloses a streaming technology generally known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol adaptive bitrate (HTTP ABR) streaming. In HTTP ABR streaming, the video/audio source is cut into many short segments (“chunks”) that are formatted for delivery. The video/audio is received by the user’s device as a series of downloads of these segments or chunks. A playlist file that is sent to the user’s device at the inception of streaming includes a list of network locations, or URLs, that tell the user’s device where and in what order the user’s device should request the segments of the video/audio. The “adaptive” part of the technology is achieved by formatting the video/audio source into multiple bitrate files, generating segments of various sizes of the video. The user’s device can then choose between the segments of different sizes based upon the device’s current network connection or the device’s CPU performance.

Trial Proceedings – The court conducted a 2-step Alice test to check the validity of US’802.

Step 1: Determining whether the asserted claims are directed to an abstract idea.

Finding: The court found the claims at issue stand apart because they do not merely recite the performance of some business practice known from the pre-Internet world along with the requirement to perform it on the Internet. Instead, the claimed solution is necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks.

At the motion to dismiss stage of the litigation, the parties had neither engaged in claim construction nor developed a factual record, therefore, the Court could not say as a matter of law that every plausible construction of the US’802 patent’s claims would be directed at an patent-ineligible abstract concept.

Step 2: Determining the presence of “inventive concept” i.e., an element or combination of elements sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the abstract idea itself.

Finding: The Court found that the Defendant had not met its burden to show that every possible plausible construction of each of the twenty claims asserted therein render the patent ineligible. Prior to a claim construction hearing, the Court was unable to assess whether the US’802 patent claims a sufficiently inventive concept to render it a patent-eligible application.

Conclusion: Defendant Netflix, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss, filed November 18, 2015 was DENIED due to unavailability of all possible plausible constructions of the twenty asserted claims. Without the assessment of whether the US’802 patent is directed at an abstract idea or whether the US’802 patent claims a sufficiently inventive concept to render it a patent-eligible application, the court could not say, as a matter of law, that the US’802 patent was invalid.


  1. You managed to hit the nail on the head and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  2. Good job. Alice is really an extra-ordinary tool. Getting to read about the different cases helps a lot in understanding the mindset of the judges. Specially for Patent attorneys like me, we need to understand which arguments are effective and how the judge will react. Extremely helpful.

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