More on the Friendster patent

WSJ has an article on the Friendster patent.

The San Francisco nonprofit is running a “patent-busting” campaign to combat patents that it sees as illegitimate. “I don’t think they’ve really come up with an innovation for finding people you know,” he says.

But Mr. Lindstrom argues that Friendster’s founder, Mr. Abrams, who left the company and is preparing to launch a startup called Socializr, invented something original. Two and a half years ago, you’d never heard of a social network,” he says. “Jonathan Abrams did something, and suddenly this new thing existed. Maybe it doesn’t seem new now, but it certainly did at the time.”

When I first heard the term “social network,” my thought was, “yeah, right, it’s just the new buzzword for virtual community.” And when I first heard about this Friendster patent, I thought, “They can’t patent that. Virtual communities have been around for decades — before there was a Web even.”

But after I read the patent and understood that what they were really claiming as intellectual property was the ability to link friends together so that friends might follow a path to other or new friends, I couldn’t think of a pre-Friendster virtual community that had such a feature. If there was one out there, I would like to know about, because I can’t remember it or never saw it.

I think this patent has a chance to stand up.

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Friendster gets patent #2

Friendster’s received another patent, which they claim covers all kinds of content sharing. See if you can figure that out from the abstract. I think it means that if you and are part of the same social network, and I upload a photo I took of you at a part to your profile, then my action is covered by the patent (or at least the technology that makes it possible).

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Friendster granted social network patent

Friendster has been granted a patent on social networks.

This is surprising. It could be argued that social networks have around since BBS days.

Social networks is just the latest buzz word for virtual communities. Virtual communities surfaced in the mid 1990s as a common term for digital environments that allow users to gather around common interests and connect with each other.

So, is the RVClub.com, which I started years before there was a Friendster, in violation of the patent?

This is like granting Kodak a patent on digital cameras.

UPDATE: OK, so I flew off the handle. Here’s the actual
patent abstract It really only describes the “link to a friend” aspect of many newer social networks:

A method and apparatus for calculating, displaying and acting upon relationships in a social network is described. A computer system collects descriptive data about various individuals and allows those individuals to indicate other individuals with whom they have a personal relationship. The descriptive data and the relationship data are integrated and processed to reveal the series of social relationships connecting any two individuals within a social network. The pathways connecting any two individuals can be displayed. Further, the social network itself can be displayed to any number of degrees of separation. A user of the system can determine the optimal relationship path (i.e., contact pathway) to reach desired individuals. A communications tool allows individuals in the system to be introduced (or introduce themselves) and initiate direct communication. (bold added)

At least that’s the way I read it.

So, maybe the patent does describe something that didn’t exist prior to> Friendster. I can’t think of an old-school virtual community that had friends lists. Continue reading

Yahoo granted patent on customized pages

If you’re planning or have launched customized news pages, you better read this first. Yahoo! has been awarded a patent:

… a page server coupled to a network, a method of providing a customized page to a user, wherein the customized page is customized according to the user’s preferences, the method comprising: obtaining real-time information from information sources; storing the real-time information in a shared local storage device …

And it goes on … fairly comprehensively covering, as far as I can grok it, customized pages. I would think Google and NetVibes will be in long meetings with attorneys on Monday trying to figure out where they stand.

You know, patents are supposed to foster innovation. I can’t help but feel that patents like this and the Friendster patents, could hold back innovation. In this case, for example, there is still so much to learn about customized user experiences on the web. To have just one company control the idea could limit the opportunity for trial and error.

(via Greg Sterling) Continue reading