Friendster said Thursday that it has received a patent that covers online social networks, one the company had applied for long before its decline and recent recapitalization.Link to patent, link to story. (thanks, H!)
The U.S. patent, which was awarded June 27, is extremely general, and would seem to cover the activities of many other sites, especially those like LinkedIn that allow people to connect within a certain number of degrees of separation.
Reader comment: Ian W. says,
Reading the abstract of Friendster's patent filing, I couldn't help but think that it sounded a lot like the rules of the Kevin Bacon game. Could the Oracle of Bacon be considered prior art?Sean Ness says,
Back in May or June of 2002, I was at a party in Adrian Scott's loft (Adrian is the founder of www.ryze.com) and Jonathan Abrams (Friendster founder) mentioned, "Hey Sean, next week, I'm gonna do the same thing that Adrian is doing, except it'll be for dating. Check it out." Sure enough, Friendster was launched the following week.Jen says,
Ever since then, I've told numerous people that Jonathan simply took Adrian's concept to where the momentum seemed to be going. Away from business networking and towards I-want-to-date-you networking...but using similar technology.
If anything...Adrian/Ryze has prior use. And wasn't there a Six Degrees site before that that failed as well?
Archive.org has a listing for Six Degrees that goes back to 1997. You can even see a FAQ explaining how Six Degrees worked from 1998. I'm not sure exactly how patent laws work, but most social networking sites do not much more than what Six Degrees did. Heck, even Livejournal predates Friendster and it's been doing the friend/blogging networking since the get-go. I don't see how the patent got approved in the first place.
This filing is an Application document. Friendster has not yet won any actual protection for the idea, the USPTO has simply acknowledged that this idea has been filed and is under scrutiny for potential granting. If it passes, another (Grant) document will be filed, at which point they are assured their monopoly. Many apply, far fewer are granted. Mostly this is a signal for anyone who wants to contest the filing to speak up- companies are continuously combing through both Apps and Grants to see what their competitors are up to and protect their intellectual turf.
When I was working on a patent a few years back, one of the big issues that complicated things was a public disclosure clause in patent laws... it was something to the effect of "publicly show, market or publish the information regarding your invention, then you have one year to file your patent application. You may, under confidence (i.e. non-disclosure agreement) disclose it to any individuals, at no disadvantage time-wise, to your ability to apply for a patent either now or in the future. The one-year rule applies only to US patents. In most other countries you loose the right to file for a patent immediately after your public disclosure. There is no one-year grace period". ( Link )
You might want to check on that with your EFF friends, but the patent application filing date for friendster is June 16, 2003 -- archive.org had them going live may5 2002, and i could load a 'sign up' page as early as Feb 16 2003. If someone can prove a signup page on June15, even if the application were patentable on utility, the window to patent would have been missed.