JDate, the leading site for Jewish dating, recently sued JSwipe, a mobile dating app for Jews that works like Tinder. Most media coverage has focused on mocking JDate for essentially claiming that it has a monopoly on certain uses of the letter J.
But in some ways, the part of JDate's lawsuit that really merits mockery is the patent infringement claims. JDate is suing JSwipe for infringing a broad patent that essentially claims the concept of using a computer to match pairs of users who express interest in each other. The lawsuit illustrates the continuing need for patent reform, because the current system makes it too expensive for defendants to challenge dubious patents.
JSwipe is accused of infringing a broad patent
"This is not about us discouraging market competition," Michael Egan, CEO of the company behind JDate, wrote to the New York Observer's Brady Dale. "Our case against JSwipe is about their theft of our technology."
Patent plaintiffs like to talk about defendants' "theft of our technology" because it makes it sound like the defendant did something nefarious, like hacking into a competitor's servers to steal their source code. But there's no evidence in JDate's lawsuit that JSwipe did anything remotely like that.
Instead, JDate accuses JSwipe of infringing a US Patent No. 5,950,200. The patent claims the concept of using a computer to notify people that "they feel reciprocal interest for each other" by first "receiving input" from users about who they're interested in and then notifying pairs of users if each expresses interest in the other. So when JDate accuses JSwipe of technology theft, what the company means is that JSwipe built an online service that introduces people based on mutual interest.
It's really difficult to undo a patent — even if the patent is ridiculous
In theory, a recent Supreme Court ruling was supposed to rein in abstract software patents like this. Patents are supposed to claim specific technologies, not abstract concepts, and the Supreme Court's 2014 CLS Bank v. Alice decision made clear that implementing an abstract concept (like "introduce two people if they're both interested in each other") on a computer doesn't turn it into a patentable invention.
The problem is that once the patent office issues a patent, it's very hard to get rid of it — even if later court decisions make clear that it shouldn't have been granted in the first place. In many cases, the only way to get rid of a bad patent is to win a lawsuit. But these challenges take years and cost hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars. So even if JSwipe is legally in the right, it might not have enough money to prevail.
JSwipe has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the money it will need to defend itself in court. JSwipe CEO David Yarus is seeking to raise $180,000, which he estimates is just a fraction of the $300,000 to $500,000 in legal costs JSwipe is facing over the trademark and patent claims. But it would be better if the legal system offered quicker and cheaper ways to test whether a patent is valid.