UPDATED 11:36 EST / FEBRUARY 26 2010

Mark Zuckerberg Started Inventing Facebook at Age 11, According to Patent 7,669,123

image The big news of the morning is that Facebook was granted a patent (7,669,123) on their News Feed. Few people, though, have really analyzed what is covered by this patent.  To highlight the ridiculousness that I believe this patent to be (because we all know that Facebook was not the first to do this, nor should this patent have ever been approved), I’d like to go down the list and talk a bit about what it is they’re trying to say they came up with.

As the patent, what is claimed to be original Facebook IP, and therefore not obviously implemented anywhere else is:

“A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment…”

Yes. No one has a news feed like this. Except they do.  Rather than list every feed on the web and talk about the implications, I’ll just point to our own.  If you’re a member at SiliconANGLE, you have a news feed. I do. Every instance of a WordPress MU installation with BuddyPress has a news feed. It’s just that common. By that simple fact, this patent fails at the two things that it must be to be granted: new and non-obvious.

“…wherein at least one informational link comprises a dropdown menu.”

Javascript dropdown menus have been around since the dawn of Javascript.  In the context of news feeds, just about every social network has them, including the newly minted Google Buzz.  Again, if it’s non-obvious, why does every social network and nearly every site on the web use them?

“…the step of assigning an order comprises assigning the order according to a chronological order of occurrence of the news items.”

Because we all know that Mark Zuckerberg invented chronological order.

“…further comprising searching the one or more news items for a predetermined character string.”

Or, in other words, AutoComplete? I remember that being a feature of Quicken, a program my mother ran on MS-DOS 5.1, back in the mid-90’s. You mean to tell me that Mark Zuckerberg invented that when he was 11 years old? Incredible!

“…wherein the social network environment is a segmented community.”

Or, in other words, privacy settings and groups. These are the things that the Federal Government gets worked up into a tizzy about due to groups like the CDD and EPIC when they don’t exist or don’t work correctly.  Now every social network has a great defense against that charge: “The USPTO says I can’t implement privacy settings, that belongs to Facebook!”

This is Just a Taste, Really

image There are over twenty five different patented algorithms or UI touchpoints in Facebook’s patent here.  The net is that they are all obvious and non-new, and that renders this patent useless.  What’s the real win for Facebook? They get their name in the headlines of the tech press for a day or two, a batch of PR that most certainly could have been accomplished by sending about ten grand to their PR firm, or rolling out actual new technology.

I don’t expect any other social network to change their behaviors in development of the social network, nor do I expect any court to uphold this patent (save perhaps the kangaroo patent courts of Marshall, TX).

I respectfully disagree with Marshall Kirkpatrick’s analysis (“This Could Be Very Big”), but would in closing love to echo a quote he gathered for that piece by Chris Messina:

I hope that this is defensive and Facebook doesn’t intent to enforce this patent. this is why the Open Web Foundation was instantiated, so we could work on these kinds of features without any one organization invoking patent rights. this is just one more example of how the patent system isn’t architected to support the right kind of innovation.

[For all the other websites using activity streams-like formats] if this patent gets enforced, you could do it in reverse chronological order where there is no algorithmic ranking or you could license this technology from Facebook. i don’t know what this means for Facebook’s Platform and Connect.

If any single one of the elements that Zuckerberg claims to have invented and chronicled in his patent application are modified slightly and then implemented elsewhere, then by technicality, the person doing so wouldn’t be violating the patent.  A patent that specific is, therefore, almost useless.

Let me put it another way. Let’s say I want to “enforce” my bragging rights in podcasting.  In actuality, I was the first person to put up a free podcast hosting company on the web.  If I’m me, I casually drop that fact into conversations where it’s relevant, and hope people are sufficiently impressed to subscribe to my Twitter feed or do whatever else it is in social media now that gives me warm fuzzies.  If I’m Mark Zuckerberg, though, I’d write a great big long blog post about it, detailing how I came up with the idea for MP3s, RSS, created Dave Winer and Adam Curry in a test tube, invented MTV and bad haircuts so that Curry would have something to do while I put the finishing touches on the RSS specification.

Then I’d take that blog post and have it copyrighted and trademarked, and in effect tell anyone who contradicts me that I could sue them for libel or slander.

Classy, Facebook. Real classy.

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