By Tim Werth
Tinder and Bumble are sparring over the right to swipe with lawsuits on both sides claiming the other is in the wrong. Tinder’s parent company, Match, filed a lawsuit against Bumble last March on the grounds that Bumble stole their intellectual property. According to Bumble’s lawsuit, Tinder’s claim is false and designed to drive down Bumble’s worth and investment market.
Match claims that there are plenty of grounds for them to sue Bumble. The two popular dating apps are very similar by design, especially in early versions. At their core, they both show a person’s photo and a short description, and then allow the user to swipe right or left to like or dislike them, respectively. The main difference is that Bumble requires women to message first while anyone can initiate contact on Tinder.
According to Sarah Burstein, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College who focuses her research on design patents, Match has accused Bumble of nearly every type of intellectual property infringement the law allows. Match submitted a patent application for their double opt-in, swipe left/swipe right system over five years ago, about seven months before Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe left Tinder to launch the rival app.
Match views Tinder’s combination of a swipe motion with a matchmaking system as a real invention that definitively improved the interfaces of dating apps and upholds their patent. Bumble maintains that their patent simply covers the concept of using the Internet for matchmaking and should be thrown out.
Burstein says that the question of who is right is not a simple one. In general, the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date of when the attorney filed it. While this certainly makes Match’s patent still active, a Supreme Court ruling from four years ago may support Bumble’s argument.
In the case of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, the Supreme Court ruled that when a person simply proposes using a computer or the Internet to make an abstract idea happen, such as matchmaking, then it is still an abstract idea and not patentable.
“You can’t just say ‘do it on a computer’ and make it patentable … That’s not enough. You have to add something more. But that ‘something more’ is the difficult part,” said Burstein.
As the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alice case has invalidated plenty of software patents since it was ruled, Tinder could certainly see their patent disappear. For now, the decision is still pending in court.