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Friendster Patents Social Networking 96

Posted by Zonk
from the now-how-will-i-make-friends dept.
Pontifex maximus writes "Friendster has said that as of this week, it has a patent covering online social networks. It applied for the patent before the company's downward spiral and recent growth." From the article: "'It's way too early to say' whether the company would pursue licenses and litigation from its competitors, Friendster President Kent Lindstrom told RedHerring.com. 'We'll do what we can to protect our intellectual property.' Though the Friendster patent could be challenged in either the patent system or the courts, opponents would face an uphill battle. 'Once the patent is issued there is a presumption of validity that follows with it,' said attorney Bill Heinze of Thomas, Kayden, Horstemeyer & Risley."
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Friendster Patents Social Networking

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  • System, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within 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 revea

    • False cause (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:08PM (#15676737)
      From the article: the patent is issued there is a presumption of validity that follows with it

      I like the fact that he used the word "presumption," because the fallacy of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" qualifies as a fallacy of presumption.

      The patent review process is broken. Searches for prior art and other such safeguards are not being enforced. The processes that would make a presumption of validity have any weight are not being followed.

      In fact, a presumption of invalidity would actually be more warranted, given current patent processes.

      This is bad.
    • I'll only vote for you if your campaign slogan is "Vote for 218170 - He's #1!"
    • by Anonymous Coward
      well of course you'll feel that way if you only read the abstract. note: the abstract is supposed to be generic.

      read the claims. in light of the specification. read the file history, look for applicant's arguments that create a judicial estoppel. look to see if 35 USC 112 6th paragraph was evoked. look for everything which makes the claims more specific and adds patentable weight. read the examiner's reasons for allowance.

      bah, why bother. it's easier to just quote the title of the patent and get all "oh noe
    • I think it's time I ran for president and did some serious housecleaning in the USPTO.

      I have a hypothesis that well-meaning folk who run for government to do great things can't resist the temptations of power and money and become corporation-loving, lying, cheating, stealing, morally corrupt, freedom-hating pricks who look at normal people as nothing but stupid, potential thieves once they get there. So be careful.

    • Wasn't this... Orkut?
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:50PM (#15676537) Journal
    "It's way too early to say whether the company would pursue licenses and litigation from its competitors," Friendster President Kent Lindstrom told RedHerring.com. "We'll do what we can to protect our intellectual property."
    I think that last sentence means they're going to liquidate all their assets and assemble the largest all star team of lawyers since Microsoft evaded penalties even after being convicted.

    Then they'll buy out Kevin Bacon when he screams prior art.

    Then they'll figure out that Moneybags Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace and go after News Corp. You know, News Corp, that generically named conglomerate of multiple money sucking companies [newscorp.com]?

    There's not a lot of social networking projects that are open source or free to the communities. Every single one seems to be some ad revenue money grubbing scheme anyway. You have PeopleAggregator [slashdot.org] and maybe NovaShare [sourceforge.net] though the latter doesn't really support degrees of separation searching.

    I guess if MySpace & FaceBook went away tomorrow I really wouldn't care. What I do care about is the fact that this patent is just as stupid and obvious as the Amazon patent on "methods and systems of assisting users in purchasing items." [com.com] Will we ever see these end? Probably not as long as the patent lawyers are milled out of "the world's finest educational institutions."
    Though the Friendster patent could be challenged in either the patent system or the courts, opponents would face an uphill battle.
    Whatever happened to the peer to patent system [slashdot.org] the USPTO was going to use? Is this thing [jot.com] a failed idea already?

    Boy I'd like to throw down some discussions on this patent.
    • Six Degrees... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kelson (129150) * on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:58PM (#15676628) Homepage Journal
      Then they'll buy out Kevin Bacon when he screams prior art.

      Actually, SixDegrees.com [wikipedia.org] would be a great example of prior art. The company folded in 2001, a year before Friendster launched, and two years before Friendster applied for the patent (June 2003)

      • This patent is idiotic. Even a basic message forum is a social network.
        • This patent is idiotic.

          I think we all agree on that here...

          Even a basic message forum is a social network.

          ...but a basic message forum doesn't track people by relationships, which is what the patent [uspto.gov] describes:

          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 de

      • by rossifer (581396)
        So is Aviri [aviri.com]. Internal corporate social networking (What are you known to be good at? Who can help me with this kind of problem?). Aviri took the basic social network and added a reputation for expertise in various subjects. Very cool concept and software, but we ran out of money before we could make it scale effectively to larger populations.

        Regards,
        Ross
      • I'm not a lawyer, but I think it's pretty clear that SixDegrees.com provides prior art which demolishes claim 1 of the Friendster patent. If I were sued by Friendster, I would definitely subpoena their internal email archives which would might show that they were aware of SixDegrees, yet failed to list this as prior art on their patent application (which would void it).
      • Exactly. I remember when Friendster came out, thinking, "Cool! It's just like Six Degrees was! Only it doesn't suck!"

        Except, over time, Friendster the website has come to suck, too. :-)
      • There was also http://www.buddyzoo.com/ [buddyzoo.com] which appeared around the same time. It's no longer available, but it was started by a group of CalTech students where it allowed you to upload your AIM buddylist and type in any screenname and find out how many degrees of seperation there was. One drawback was that AIM only allowed a maximum of 200 buddies (or was it 150 back then?) and often times I had to delete people who I no longer chat with much to put in new people.

        It was also nice cause they group people toge
      • If you want to get technical, Mike Ginelli, Craig Fass, and Brian Turtle [wikipedia.org] should be screaming prior art, since they actually came up with the show, though Kevin Bacon could probably do so as well since he was a key part of it.

        Also, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon predates SixDegrees.com by three years, so the OP was more correct.
    • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:59PM (#15676648) Homepage Journal

      I think that last sentence means they're going to liquidate all their assets and assemble the largest all star team of lawyers since Microsoft evaded penalties even after being convicted.

      A bit OT, but I don't think Microsoft evaded the penalties thanks to an army of competent lawyers, it was more like Bill discovered the benefits of political contributions (which they had prior shunned) and arose to sit at the left hand of God and steal Jesus' bucket of popcorn.

      Then they'll figure out that Moneybags Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace and go after News Corp. You know, News Corp, that generically named conglomerate of multiple money sucking companies?

      Which appears the primary reason for infusion of new capital into the utter failure Friendster was... "nope, nope, no decent assets, poor business plan, the whole thing isn't worth a bucket of spit, whoop, what's this, a patent application for Social Networking and Newscorp just bought MySpace? We'll shite my britches and call me Al Capone, get some money in here to prop it up just like another SCO!"

      • A bit OT, but I don't think Microsoft evaded the penalties thanks to an army of competent lawyers, it was more like Bill discovered the benefits of political contributions (which they had prior shunned) and arose to sit at the left hand of God and steal Jesus' bucket of popcorn.

        You can go off topic all you want, for a gem like that. Just when you think you've heard all the funny expressions, along comes "sit at the left hand of God and steal Jesus' bucket of popcorn." Lordy... Still catching my breath.

    • There's not a lot of social networking projects that are open source or free to the communities. Every single one seems to be some ad revenue money grubbing scheme anyway. You have PeopleAggregator and maybe NovaShare though the latter doesn't really support degrees of separation searching.

      Although Livejournal (the site) [livejournal.com] might arguably fall under the money-grubbing description, Livejournal (the engine) [livejournal.org] is open source.

    • Whatever happened to the peer to patent system [slashdot.org] the USPTO was going to use? Is this thing [jot.com] a failed idea already?
      If I understood properly at the time, peer to patent was a voluntary peer review. Only patents that the submitter requested be reviewed through that system were going to be. Obviously, no one knowingly submitting or owning a shady patent was going to request that their patent be reviewed.
    • Probably not as long as the patent lawyers are milled out of "the world's finest educational institutions.
      Wait, didnt Idaho State file a patent 2 years ago describing a method to assimilate transfer information to certain individuals, hereby referred to as students, in a process hereby referred to as education?
  • From the patent:
    "System, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks"

    Isn't this called IRC?
  • On useless, stupid, generic patents which are otherwise covered by prior art and have existed in some incarnation for years.

    Of course, then every day would be a slow news day on Slashdot.
  • and file a patent for "social connections." I will call my invention a "friend."
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@NOSPAM.optonline.net> on Friday July 07, 2006 @12:56PM (#15676615) Journal
    Friendster has never been profitable, but it is now on that track, Mr. Lindstrom said. The company makes money from ad sales in the United States and SMS in Asia, where users can subscribe to pay for phone alerts when their friends update their profiles.

    Of course it's on that track... the lawyers are warming up in the bullpen. Expect a spate of lawsuits within the next 6 months, trying to milk money out of anyone and everyone who might even be thought to be violating the patent. As usual, the USPTO has totally overlooked how generic the patent is and once more a software patnet threatens to gum up the works. Two words: patent reform.

    • A friend of mine just started working at the USPTO and quickly discovered the biggest problem with todays patent system. Employee's get raises based on quantity alone. So when review time comes up the supervisors look only at how many patents you have approved and quality is not a factor that is considered. They are apparently working on revising the system so that quality is, at the very least, given some consideration, but until this gets fixed it's going to be hard to change much.
      • Technically, priduction is measured by a rate described as "Hours per Balanced Disposal" A Balenced Disposal is calculated by counting, during ther time period under consideration (the "Hours") all the first actions on the merits (whether a rejection, an allowance, or an express abandoment), adding to that the nuber of disposals (Allowances, Abandonments, and Appeals) then dividing by 2. Each examiner is given an expectancy (based on the specific area of technology to which he/she is assigned, grade, level
  • I've patented the process of affecting hipness in order to obtain paper friendships within an online community. Soon I'll 0wn Friendster and MySpace both!
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:00PM (#15676655)
    Before we talk and bitch about this company and how obvious it is, this is just another example to show broken the system is - this company is simply taking advantage of it.

    Bureacracies always reach out and try to take more power - once patents simply protected implementations - now the patent office is reaching out to get a stranglehold on stuff like "business methods" and algorithms (math) and essentially ideas - many of them common sense to the problem being solved.

    Patents are for society, not the individual. It's supposed to push progress forward by opening non-obvious ideas for everyone for a limited time. Not MONOPOLIZE obvious ideas for the benefit of one person against the rest of society.

    To fix patents, we don't need more patent clerks (federal employees), we need to:

    1. Go back to old way patents were done - which includes working implementation upon application. Thus ideas become unpatentable. Same with business methods. It will also render 90% all the unreadable legalese to obscure what you are patenting obsolete.

    2. Punish non-English application. No, I don't mean application in a foreign language, just the ones that read like they are. Plain english is a must. Jail time in Gitmo otherwise.

    3. Raise price to apply for patent to $5,000-50,000 depending on whether it is an individual, small company or large corporation (refundable only on recieving a patent) - while it may seem to screw the "little guy" it actually will kill corporations trying to patent every little thing. Even a little operation will be able to afford to patent 1 WORTHWHILE application, but will corporate America still be able to afford to apply for 10's of thousands of trivial patents?

    4. Part of application fee (say 1/2) will go as a bounty to anybody who can disprove it - in other words show prior art, etcetera. This could be anybody - college students, professors, employees of another company. This will also lower amount of patents applied and speed up patenting time.

    Why hire clueless clerks when you could flocks of knowleable people examining patents because of a profit motive to turn them down? They won't have the power to deny a patent, they bring the case against it.

    5. No renewable patents. Lower patent length from 17 years to 9-10 years or so. Back in the 1700's, business and the pace of life overall was slower, let's reflect that.
    • by MyNymWasTaken (879908) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:12PM (#15676775)
      will corporate America still be able to afford to apply for 10's of thousands of trivial patents?

      Yes. It will follow the same process that spamming does. They only need a marginal rate of return to jusitfy the expense.

      $50,000/patent * 1000 patents = $50 million

      One successful patent litigation = $500 million award

      That is a 1000% return on investment.

      They can then use the other 999 patents as leverage to bargain with the other large corporations.

      I whole-heartedly agree with point #1 though.
    • 1. Go back to old way patents were done - which includes working implementation upon application. Thus ideas become unpatentable. Same with business methods. It will also render 90% all the unreadable legalese to obscure what you are patenting obsolete.

      A working model (actual reduction to practice) hasn't been required in the US since the 1836 patent act -- the U.S. patent system before 1836 was an absolute mess, 1/3 of all issued patents were tied up in court. A working model system also hurts small comp

    • Nice post. Completely worthy of the Insightful mod. And I pretty much agree with all of it.

      Best line in the whole thing though:

      Jail time in Gitmo otherwise.

      Ah, thanks. You made my Friday...

      (and for those of you whose EmotiMeter (patent pending) is not working I am not being sarcastic, I totally agree with the post
      and while it may seem over the top "jail time in gitmo" actually seems appropriate given the current patent situation in the US).
    • "1. Go back to old way patents were done - which includes working implementation upon application. Thus ideas become unpatentable. Same with business methods. It will also render 90% all the unreadable legalese to obscure what you are patenting obsolete."

      From what I gather, the business method bar on patents was considered a bad judicial opinion. The statute is silent on this, and prior courts inserted the bar. So, if you want to fix this, just persuade your Congressmen to amend the statute.

      And, these imple
  • OMGWTFBBQ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theCat (36907) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:00PM (#15676665) Journal
    Next, someone is going to patent "user-submitted content used to build a web site" and we will have nicely painted ourselves into a fine corner. It's out there somewhere, winding its way slowly thru the patent system. Just wait for it.
  • This is nuts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JPribe (946570)
    Can't someone just sue the USGov for being ignorant? Or, should I patent being ignorant?
  • by the_REAL_sam (670858) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:07PM (#15676732) Journal
    Dang. Is it too late to patent "antisocial networking"?

    Seriously though, there are already tons of websites doing that, right? Myspace, Hi5, every single chat engine in the world, online email services that allow you to remember your friends' email addresses.

    To qualify for a patent they have to be able to demonstrate that their idea would not be obvious to the most people (or the average person?) in their field. In this case, the field has already demonstrated that the idea is obvious, since the entire field has already done it.

    • You have no idea what "obvious" means in the sense used in patent law.

      The fact that everyone is doing something doesn't make it obvious, if they all started doing it after the person who patented it and showed them how it was done.

      That said, when sixdegrees did it, this kind of social networking was innovative. And I don't believe for a second that the people at Friendster aren't aware of sixdegrees prior art or that they honestly believe they came up with an original idea.
      • No, in fact, I DO have a good idea of what "obvious" means. But what was implemented at the time of "friendster" doesn't have anything to do with whether the current ideal "social networking" solution was obvious to those who had theretofore failed to implement it. There's what they'd made and what they'd like to have made. Just b/c they haven't made it yet doesn't mean that they WOULDN'T have made it, given the resources and/or the time. (Just as the inventor need not ever have built what's in their bl
      • You have no idea what "obvious" means in the sense used in patent law.

        And you seem to have no idea what "obvious" means in real life.

        Just because the PTO is currently using a bogus definition of "obvious" doesn't somehow make it okay.

        A lot of ideas are "ideas whose time has come". They are obvious to people in the field because the conditions are right and are going to be independently reinvented many times.

        The fact that patent law can't even cope with something as simple as that shows just how ba

      • Ah, Hegelian metaphysics.

        Yeah, I didn't believe it when Marx used it to claim that Communism would inevitably arise through deterministic processes when the time was right, and I don't believe it now.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:09PM (#15676745) Homepage
    The patent system has come to resemble the old English charters that granted the "right to trade with other nations" to selected merchants. Now it's "only" the right to enter one's own native economy and produce. My, how things have changed. And when it's not that bad, it's a lottery ticket for the lucky company that can sue the pants off of another.

    On the bright side, nothing makes a typical lawyer's brain implode as quickly as having to justify software patents as not being patents on ideas themselves. An algorithm is just an idea. Yet we allow them to patent the algorithm in its abstract form. Imagine that. The whole idea of the patent system being violated because non-technical people just don't get it.

    The arguments for these patents, that they benefit the little guy, almost sound like a bad attempt at "social justice" rhetoric from my fellow capitalists. Capitalism is not about the little guy, it's about property rights. It has no concept of fairness except allowing people to keep their own property secure. Screw all of the aforementioned crap. Let's truly maximize property rights with a new legal idea of "the right to make new property."
    • The arguments for these patents, that they benefit the little guy, almost sound like a bad attempt at "social justice" rhetoric from my fellow capitalists. Capitalism is not about the little guy, it's about property rights. It has no concept of fairness except allowing people to keep their own property secure. Screw all of the aforementioned crap. Let's truly maximize property rights with a new legal idea of "the right to make new property."

      Just to set things straight, I don't think this was the vision Adam
  • Why don't they just patent friendship (I never used friendster, I don't know what it does exactly, is it like a chatroom with blogs and forums?) I bet someone can file a friendship patent and even get the rights for it. Will it be difficult to show prior art in court?
  • Wow! Friendster just patented the all new concept of social networking!!!! Somebody get Ric Romero, quick! This is BIG NEWS! :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:13PM (#15676795)
    Howdy folks! Come on in. I see your post count is higher than this here tiny signpost, so feel free to enter the patent house of horrors at Slashdot...

    Oooh. Here comes the deluge of "Oh yeah, I'm going to patent ..." posts! You'll want to avoid these at all costs - most are obvious, and all are interchangeable - none are funny. If you proceed carefully around this corner, try to make out some of the "Prior Art" posts on the left, and there, on the right. These are often quite interesting. Did you bring your blindfolds (NetHackers I'm talking to you)? Good. Make sure you keep them handy when coming across posts that think Copyright, Trademarks and Patents are interchangeable. These can actually burn the eyes.

    Remember, making your way around YRO Patent topics can be fun. Just tread cautiously and don't take anything too seriously. Especially off topic RIAA rants (those are just here to entertain) Enjoy the show!
  • I know I'm in the minority, but I would be more than happy if Myspace disappeared tomorrow. After seeing some myspace pages, I am convinced that a) people with epilepsy shouldn't go to MySpace pages created by today's "teenie boppers", b) today's youth must have really good eyes, because even I, at the ripe old age of 19, have trouble reading yellow text on white backgrounds, and c) Web page design really should be left up to professionals.
  • PGP WoT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:19PM (#15676859) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Damn, they're going to use their 2003 patent to sue Phil Zimmermann for something he implemented a decade and a half earlier. Oh wait, PGP didn't include a "communication tool" -- it's too bad that its users never made the innovative leap of using it in combination with email.

  • hehe (Score:4, Funny)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:21PM (#15676869)
    I forwarded this to my work email group. Outlook's spellcheck suggested I change "Friendster' to "Fraudster." How apropos...
  • by Ithika (703697) on Friday July 07, 2006 @01:41PM (#15677100) Homepage

    I don't think there will be any slashdotters accidentally infringing on the patent of making friends.


  • Witness the continued destruction of a free market economy via the patent office.
  • From the article:
    'Once the patent is issued there is a presumption of validity that follows with it,' said attorney Bill Heinze

    I think that should be challenged in a court, and it easily could be. But my guess is that Patent Lawyers don't want to challenge it because it is the foundation of their work.

    There should be enough opportunities to do so, at any rate.

    Stephan

  • I might as well apply for a patent covering "Social Sex Networks". Now if you know of any prior art, I'll need proof. Send pictures :).
  • ...has a patent covering online social networks.

    And how long before gathering at the street corner with a case of suds will require paying royalties?

    Patents are for people who can't compete with their product in the market otherwise.

  • On the one hand, this a bastard of a patent. Patent law reform, change in the system, blah blah, it all needs to happen, because this is what we get otherwise.

    On the other hand, this could get rid of MySpace.

    Which side to choose, which side to choose...
  • The religious right are looking for someone to make responsible for the sin on "social networks". If these morons enforce that patent they are positioning themselves as the responsible party.
  • If these guys sue and have any affect on MySpace, that might be the mainstream call-to-action that patent reform is sorely lacking....
  • The government needs to quit giving these patents so easily. The patent is free. The price comes in the application cost. From personal experience obtaining a patent, I can tell you that it's a long process, but an overly-simple one in the end. To say one company now owns the right to online social networking is insane.

    The wording on their application is not specific by any means. Many websites have a form of networking based on interests, not only MySpace, but places such as LiveJournal where you can
  • by modpod (733098)
    sorry, I'm not buying it. Tribe has been around for 8 years. I'm really irritated by the recent impending media blitz on social networking sites. We _will_ not pay attention to ads, I really don't see why large corporations see the need to control these jewels of the internet.
  • The "Six Degrees Patent," #6,175,831 [uspto.gov], was sold for $700,000 to LinkedIn and Tribe.net in 2003. It was supposed to be the social networking patent. Can anyone that understands these things compare the two and explain the differences?
  • It's no longer possible to say that I'm sick of hearing about this total and utter nonsense. Where did the human race take such a drastically wrong turn that we ended up with this type of decision making the people we place our trust in? I think I must have reached the point of being sick of being sick of it.
    • > Where did the human race take such a drastically wrong turn that we ended up with this type of decision making the people we place our trust in?

      It actually isn't the "human race", but only the US software patent system.
  • I will not comment on the obviousness (or non-obviousness) of this patent, but I would like to point out the following:

    "[F]or a court to find infringement, the plaintiff must show the presence of every element or its substantial equivalent in the accused device." Wolverine World Wide, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., 38 F.3d 1192, 1199 (Fed. Cir. 1994)
    -Wikipedia entry on Patent Infringement [wikipedia.org]

    If this is true, and every claim must be violated, then to avoid infringement there are a number of things a developer can do:

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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