Mar 4, 2010

Facebook’s ‘news feed’ patent — just a legal novelty?

Facebook’s "news feed" patent is a classic example of why the very idea of software patents is controversial. But is patent law's "novelty" requirement really anything new?

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

Facebook’s “news feed” patent — more formally US patent number 7,669,123 for “dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network” — is a classic example of why the very idea of software patents is controversial.

The patent, filed in 2006 and granted on February 23 this year, claims to cover the monitoring of activities in a social network, storing them in a database, generating a list of news items related to those activities, selecting and sorting them, and displaying them to selected users with embedded links and advertising. In other words, it covers the “News Feed” that has been at the centre of Facebook since 2006 — and perhaps the similar news feeds since adopted by other social network sites including MySpace, LinkedIn and Google’s new Buzz.

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4 thoughts on “Facebook’s ‘news feed’ patent — just a legal novelty?

  1. Pete

    I say it’s more about seeking investment from VC. Not quite sure how many other patents FB owns, but I’m guessing next to bugger all. Patent is where the serious $ is, particularly when you’ve established your business on open source software tools and relied on advertising. Google’s genius was in patenting online advertising systems. Which is precisely the code they’ll never hand back to the open source community.

  2. glengyron

    If only filing patents for trivial software was novel.

    I don’t think this particular patent will survive re-examination, but the broader issue of software patents will live on. What’s interesting now is that venture capital firms are starting to realize that patents merely slow down start-ups and stifle innovation.

    Brad Burnham from Union Square Venture wrote quite a good essay on this a couple of weeks ago here. It’s non-technical but covers the different ideologies quite well.

  3. Pete

    It’d depend on which sort of VC (ie, who) one’s after. And at the time of the original filing, this change of heart in VC $ would’ve been practically unheard of… hmmm

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