Just got back from traveling and saw the bit about Friendster trying to patent Social Networking. As it turns out, I was one of the co-founders of sixdegrees.com, head product guy and one of the inventors on the social networking patent we filed back in 1997 (and was finally granted in 2001): Link.Here's a 2003 News.com story about Tribe and Linkedin's purchase of the Six Degrees patent.
There's a lot of stuff in the patent about the email components of the system -- essentially a viral growth engine where friends invite friends who invite friends via email and there's a whole parsing system that records email responses to the invites and generates invites to the next set of friends etc. (it was back when email and web browsing were still pretty separate activities). But the meat of it was a database that can store, identify and display the network of connections between any of its member records based on the individual relationships between the nodes (members).
sixdegrees.com was an early web community where our 3.5 million members could see how they were connected to other members and leverage the power of the social network to add context and relevance to applications like bulletin boards, chat, prodcut reviews, auctions, etc. It turned out we were just a little early for that kind of stuff. The patent went as part of the assets when we sold sixdegrees to Youthstream (a now defunct marketing company) in 2000, but I think the guys over at Tribe and LinkedIn purchased the rights to the patent from Youthstream back a couple years ago.
I don't know a lot about the nuances of the patent process, but based on what the Friendster patent application looks like (from a cursory glance), it sure seems to have a lot of similarities to the sixdegrees patent - it should be really interesting to see if it gets granted and what the current owners of the sixdegrees patent decide to do about it.
FYI: I'm currently the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Fotolog.com, a photoblogging community where we've used social network-ish functionality to create an environment where our members' photos (all 125 million of them) get looked at by lots of other human beings who care (i.e. friends of friends).