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Friday, December 9, 2011

StylePath v. BeachMint - Alleged Patent Infringement Over Image-Based Style Profiles?

I've been following this for a few days now and it looks as though a lawsuit tracking website called RFC Express is reporting that a company called StylePath has filed lawsuits in California against BeachMint, JustFabulous, and even ShoeDazzle citing Patent Infringement.

Looking a little further into the details of the alleged patent infringement possibilities, I found an article over at MassHighTech.com highlighting StylePath's image/aesthetic platform dating back to 2007...

After aging seven years, StylePath uncorked
By Christopher Calnan
December 31, 2007

A Lincoln architect has launched a company with online technology designed to allow more narrow web searches based on users' aesthetic tastes -- seven years after the dot-com collapse postponed the release of the technology that powers it.

David Hornstein developed the algorithms for StylePath Inc., which publicly released its online recommendation technology in October. That's nearly a decade after Hornstein, founder and president of StylePath, first came upon the idea. And it's seven years since Hornstein's concept received a second-place award worth $150,000 in the B-Plan Slam competition from the former Lycos Labs, an incubator arm of Lycos Inc. that was reabsorbed into its parent after the dot-com collapse.

Hornstein said he revitalized his idea last year when awarded a patent for his concept of matching visual preferences to products -- based on profiles of site users either user-created or site-generated -- confirming the value of StylePath's technology, he said.

"It seems to me that, as the web evolved, that's the way people would search for things," said Hornstein.

In the late 1990s, Hornstein collaborated on the technology with Dan Ariely, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management. Ariely said developing recommendation algorithms is a "useful" but complex task because the algorithms need to reflect how a consumer thinks about products.

Hornstein, who has been working full-time on StylePath instead of his architecture firm since the patent was awarded at the end of 2006, has pitched four local angel groups to raise $1 million for a marketing campaign. Such an investment would enable the company to become profitable in 16 months, he said.



The StylePath website generates revenue through commissions it receives when users purchase items from affiliate retailers through StylePath.

The website attracted 10,000 users during beta tests of its product during August and September. Since its October public launch, StylePath has attracted 30,000 users, Hornstein said.

Other shopping recommendation website operators include Cambridge's StyleFeeder Inc., which launched in the spring, and Kaboodle Inc., a California company started in 2005. In August, Hearst Interactive Media acquired Kaboodle for a reported $30 million to $40 million.

Unlike StylePath, products listed by StyleFeeder are recommended and posted by user, which now number approximately 250,000, founder Philip Jacob said.

The six-employee StyleFeeder is backed by Lexington venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners and Schooner Capital LLC, a Boston investment firm. The demand for such "collaborative filtering" is likely to increase as more and more content makes its way on the Internet, he said.

"Recommendation systems enable things that just aren't possible in the real world," Jacob said.


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As we all know, BeachMint is the parent company of sister-sites JewelMint, StyleMint, BeautyMint, and ShoeMint. JewelMint, StyleMint, and ShoeMint's sign-up processes all require a one to create a "StyleProfile"; BeautyMint - a "Skin Consultation".

While ShoeDazzle.com, Inc. has been functioning the longest with a huge fan-base, BeachMint, Inc. and JustFab, Inc. have both made it big within the past year as well. All three share similar sign up processes - requiring one to choose images based off of their personal interests in order to learn one's personal style.

This should definitely be interesting to see how these suits unfold as it seems the particularly clever idea of a StyleProfile and matching one's preferences based off of images is claimed to be patented by StylePath founder David Hornstein.

A more defined explanation of this patent is as follows (source: patents.justia.com):

"A system for selecting products is described. The system includes a computer executing a process to retrieve a product aesthetic tag associated with a particular product type selected by a customer. The aesthetic tag contains values that represent aesthetic features of the product and a process to form a result tag that contains a value corresponding to how well aesthetic features of the product match to aesthetic preferences of the customer."

Makes you think to yourself "Gosh, why didn't I think of that?" and "Geez, how will council for these companies respond?" Guess we'll have to wait and see what happens...

Let's hope all parties involved can work it out somehow so that everyone can continue taking fun style profiles on these particular websites (if this does happen to be the issue at hand). However, if it ever actually came down to these sites no longer being allowed to use this feature, I believe all sites could easily find a way to survive without it.

Gosh, who knew that the world of fashion and style profiles could be so complicated?

xoxo, Lily

What are your thoughts in regards to these alleged patent infringement lawsuits? Do you think JewelMint and all other BeachMint sites could easily function without a StyleProfile if necessary?

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Lily,
    While I'm the type that is fully in support of a system that protects the intellecutal property of another, there are also problems with the copyright system and how it functions for today's world. It's really hitting the tech world hard due to folks known as "Patent Trolls."

    Here's a link to a great online report about these folks. I don't know what is happening for Beachmint. But in some circles, it's a right of passage to be sued by a patent troll--demonstrating that your company is *worth* going after...if the lawsuit initiated by a troll doesn't inhibit a fledgling company.

    To the quick: it seems that patent trolls are actually inhibiting progress, and making it hard for folks like me that want to see systems that recognize and protect intellectual property. Spirit, intent, and jurisprudence are not working well together in the tech world right now. I hope this isn't the situation that JM is isn.

    You'll catch my drift after checking this out, if you choose to:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/441/when-patents-attack

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  3. I always try to view situations like this objectively and like Avery said above I too fully support a system that protects the intellectual property of others, but to be frank this guy's patent sounds like a load of crap to begin with. People were making "quizzes" just like this long before this guy even applied for his patent. The only thing about his idea that was remotely original was implementing these quizzes and their results into a business whereas before people only did them for fun online. Did he sue every 12 year old girl in the 90s and since that made quizzes using this exact same formula as described in his patent? No, of course not because those 12 year olds weren't running successful well known businesses that were worth millions! I'd also like to see some actual proof that he was without a doubt the very first to come up with the formula for these quizzes. The internet was SO young back then and nothing like it is now so I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone else actually had the idea first and just didn't have the foresight and understanding to apply for a patent. Hopefully the judge will see this for exactly what it is and not give this leech the time of day. He doesn't deserve a penny from any of these companies as far as I'm concerned!

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