Patented Stylist Has a Wardrobe Malfunction
In Brief: Automating how to choose an outfit is not patentable subject matter.
Here’s What Happened:
Stylitics, Inc.’s is an e-commerce platform that allows its commercial website clients to create aggregated shoppable content. Stylitics’ “Auto-Styler” creates collages of merchandise. It automatically generates a plurality of outfits that conform to one or more styles. It gives users the ability to generate outfits by pairing items in the collages. Obviously, this is a useful tool whether you are style-challenged or a style-maven. Stylitics obtained a patent for the style automator.
Stylitics filed suit against FindMine, Inc. which is also an e-commerce platform that does pretty much the same thing as Stylitics. Stylitics alleged FindMine gained access to Stylitics’ technology while pursuing a potential relationship. Then FindMine copied the technology and began selling the platform to its own customers.
FindMine filed a motion to dismiss which was heard by a magistrate judge.* The judge looked at the test for determining patentability that was established by US Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, 573 U.S. 208 (2014). The judge determined that Stylitics’ patent was an abstract idea of pairing outfits. This was something that human stylists have been doing for generations. This “mental process” is not patentable subject matter. The judge also agreed with FindMine that “arranging clothing items on a computer instead of on a child’s bed, hanger, mannequin, or in a printed advertisement does not make the abstract idea patent eligible.”
Therefore, the judge recommended that the district court judge enter an order granting FindMine’s motion to dismiss.
Why You Should Know This: The Alice decision invalidated patents that were abstract ideas or merely the automation of something a human can do. Alice left software developers/inventors in a quandary as to how to protect their creations. Registering a copyright which isn’t a perfect solution because: (a) a certain amount of source code has to be disclosed; (b) it’s hard to prove infringement when only a certain amount of source code was disclosed; and (c) it’s cumbersome to handle updates and advances in the software. Protecting the software as a trade secret is probably better. But the developer/inventor has to be diligent about confidentiality and limiting disclosure of the source code.
*A magistrate judge can decide on issues and then make adjudication recommendations to the district judge.
Case Information: Stylitics, Inc. v. Findmine, Inc., Case No. 22-cv-02983 (PGG) (SDA) (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2023)