Patent on Social Networking – Patents threatening innovation once again?

The last month there has been some activity concerning patents on social networking. Red Herring reported in july how Friendster had gotten a patent for online social networks. They filed it in 2003, and was recently awarded it on June 27th. The patent covers a “system, method, and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks.” The main claim is the “degrees of separation” idea that has been implemented by business networks like LinkedIn.

In November 2003 Cnet published an article about how linkedin and tribe.net bought a patent. Apperently the chief executives of linkedin, tribe.net and friendster were all friends but when friendster announced their latest cash infusion, chief executives of linkedin and tribe.net formed a partnership to buy the so-called “six-degree” patent for $700,000.

The Six Degrees patent is a method and apparatus for constructing a networking database and system. It was originally granted to Six Degrees of Separation, one of the first social networking sites. YouthStream Media Networks acquired the patent when Six Degrees went out of business and solded it on september 23 2003 along with related intellectual property rights and software. The patent can be found here.

One of the co-founders of Six-degrees and co-inventor comments to Boing Boing that there are many similarities in Friendster’s patent and that it will be interesting to see what the current owners of Six-degrees patent will do about it. Friendster is refering to The Six-degree patent so the patent examiner has apperently not found any over-lapping.

So 2003 Linkedin and Tribe were scared of Friendster and aquired a patent to secure their niches. 2006 MySpace outpasses Friendster, and Friendster low on revenue gets a patent that can be used towards MySpace, and other communities such as Linkedin. Friendster could try to seek licensing fees, or sue them for patent infringement.

It will be interesting to see what follows. Patents and licenses can be a business model in its own as NTP showed in the dispute with Research in Motion (RIM). I hope we don’t have to see something like what was between RIM and NTP. Millions of customers where in trouble as NTP threatend to close down the Blackberry network. NTP had no customers and no products and does nothing except to collect licensing fees and sue companies that don’t pay it off. They settled for $612 million dollars according to a press release at RIM’s website.

~ by Andreas Sigurdsson on August 6, 2006.

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