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You are here: Home / World Wide Web / Does Facebook Own the News Feed?
Does Facebook Patent Mean It Owns the News Feed?
Does Facebook Patent Mean It Owns the News Feed?
By Richard Koman / CRM Daily Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
PUBLISHED:
FEBRUARY
26
2010
Has Facebook patented the news, or at least the news feed, in social-networking environments? On Tuesday, the United States Patent Office granted Facebook a patent for "Dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network." The patent is published and numbered 7,669,123.

Facebook's patent, which was filed in 2006, describes a "method for displaying a news feed in a social-network environment," including "generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social-network environment," attaching an "informational link" to at least one of the news items, limiting access to the item to a "predetermined set of viewers," ordering the news items, dynamically limiting the number of items, and displaying the news items.

How Broad?

That sounds pretty broad, and the social-networking world was all atwitter at the possible ramifications. Writing for ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick proclaimed, "This could be very big. ... MySpace, Flickr, Yahoo, Twitter (?), the sharing part of Google Reader, and even Google Buzz -- do all of these sites have technology at the center of their social experiences that falls under this new patent of Facebook's?"

The patent may not be that broad. Nick O'Neill at the All Facebook blog wrote that the patent doesn't appear to cover status updates as used by Twitter. "It appears that this patent surrounds implicit actions. This means status updates, which is what Twitter is based on, are not part of this patent."

"Instead, this is about stories about the actions of a user's friends. While still significant, the implications for competing social networks may be less substantial," O'Neill wrote.

But Kirkpatrick disputed that conclusion, writing, "Implicit actions are a very big deal. LinkedIn contacts making new connections or changing their jobs would be the most immediate example that comes to mind. If offering a stream of updates of the non-status messages of friends is something Facebook alone could deliver, that would be a major loss for the rest of the social web."

Patent Office Failure

Ben Bajarin, who analyzes consumer technology for Creative Strategies, said in an e-mail that such fears "may be alarmist." Rather, "it appears the patent is around the technology/process that Facebook uses to provide the feed, not actually the broader feed itself," he said. Any company that provides a feed similar to Facebook's would just need to show their technology scheme doesn't impede on the specifics of this patent, Bajarin said.

Since the patent actually describes Facebook's algorithm flowchart rather than a generalized process for generating news feeds, the patent may be more defensive than offensive. Chris Messina, an open web advocate for Google, hopes so. "This is why the Open Web Foundation was instantiated," he said. "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."

Bajarin agrees that the patent is yet another sign of the need for patent reform. "This is one of those disappointing actions by the patent department and demonstrates their weakness when it comes to technology," Bajarin said. "It is not clear that Facebook actually invented anything unique or proprietary in order to get this patent. They used open-source code, namely JavaScript, which is open and free and created a process by leveraging existing technology."

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Anonymous:
Posted: 2010-03-05 @ 4:09pm PT
I'm not seeing an argument that facebook did actually invent something. I'm not sure the quotes argue that facebook was creative but rather one should be able to patent a combination of elements that someone else created in order to make something new.

I could stick a couple of macs together, strap some bindings on and make a new type of device to go down the snow, but should I be able to patent this device which is a combination of elements someone else created?

Anonymous:
Posted: 2010-02-27 @ 8:31pm PT
"Facebook's patent, which was filed in 2006, describes a "method for ...

Sorry to inform you, but you just quoted from the SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION section of the specification. That is NOT what the patent covers. Obviously, you are not a patent attorney or an inventor.

Patent reform is a fraud on America. It is patently un-American.

Anonymous:
Posted: 2010-02-26 @ 10:59am PT
"They used open-source code, namely JavaScript, which is open and free and created a process by leveraging existing technology."

Sorry, Chris, but a new combination of old elements is still new.

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