March 03, 2010

By Alison Plavin and Mark Reichel

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, Facebook, Inc. was awarded a patent entitled "Dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network." This patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,669,123, available HERE), according to a recent PC Magazine article (available HERE), covers a technology first launched by Facebook in 2006 as the "news feed," which lets a Facebook member keep track of his or her friends' on-site activity, such as by joining a group or writing on another's "wall." This patent has a total of 25 claims, most being systems and methods, and two computer medium/program/method claims.

Claim 1 of the issued patent claims a "method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment," comprising the steps of "monitoring a plurality of activities in a social network environment; storing the plurality of activities in a database; generating a plurality of news items regarding one or more of the activities, wherein one or more of the news items is for presentation to one or more viewing users and relates to an activity that was performed by another user; attaching a link associated with at least one of the activities of another user to at least one of the plurality of news items where the link enables a viewing user to participate in the same activity as the another user; limiting access to the plurality of news items to a set of viewing users; and displaying a news feed comprising two or more of the plurality of news items to at least one viewing user of the predetermined set of viewing users." This claim, as issued, includes the step of displaying a news feed of at least two news items based on social network activities, whereby access to said news feeds are limited to a set of viewer-users. As mentioned in the patent, "news items" may include media content items, links to media content regarding the subject user, and links to enable a viewer to participate in activities of the subject user. Inventors listed on the patent include some of the company’s top executives, including its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Ruchi Sanghvi, Andrew Bosworth, Chris Cox, Aaron Sittig, Chris Hughes, Katie Geminder, and Dan Corson.

According to a PC World magazine article available through MSNBC (link HERE), news feeds are available on many - if not most - social media sites, including MySpace, Flickr, Google Buzz, LinkedIn, Yahoo Mail, and Windows Live. It is unclear at this point how the patent will impact social media, as much will depend on the precise wording of the patent, and whether Facebook actually plans to enforce it. Enforcement may mean that other social networking sites will have to cease use of the technology, or perhaps pay licensing fees to use such functionality. Interestingly, when first launched, the "news feed," now a pivotal part of the Facebook experience, caused a backlash amongst users, and eventually led to an apology by Zuckerberg himself (available HERE on Facebook’s blog) for the lack of privacy features on Facebook. After issuance of the patent, a spokesperson for Facebook (referenced in the PC World magazine article above) stated: "The launch of News Feed in 2006 was a pivotal moment in Facebook's history and changed the way millions of people consumed and discovered information on the site. We are humbled by the growth and adoption of News Feed over time and pleased with being awarded the patent." With some technology commentators decrying the issuance of the patent, including Marshall Kirkpatrick as noted in his recent ReadWriteWeb article available HERE, and others calling it a game-changing potential gold mine (as noted in a recent Computerworld article on the patent available HERE), its impact on the future and use of social media Web sites remains to be seen.

Alison Plavin and Mark Reichel are associates with Ice Miller LLP, focusing their efforts on competitive business practice litigation, various intellectual property matters, and social media and technology issues.


Jeff Yablon said...

Legal, practical, whatever. The bottom line is that USPTO has run amok. Their examiners have proven yet again that they have no idea what their jobs actually ARE.

See this:

Jeff Yablon
President & CEO
Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

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