Judge Orders Facebook To Reveal Source Code In Patent Dispute

from the that-seems-extreme dept

Another day, another ridiculous situation brought on by patents. Back in November, we wrote about how a company almost no one had ever heard of, called Leader Technologies (name not descriptive of the company) had sued Facebook for patent infringement over Patent 7,139,761 on associating a piece of data with multiple categories. As broad and obvious as that appears to be, it struck us that the whole lawsuit appeared to be a publicity stunt by this no-name company. Yet, for a publicity stunt, things may be getting troublesome. A magistrate judge has ordered Facebook to turn over its source code to the other company. Now, whatever you think of proprietary source code vs. open source, it doesn't seem right that a service like Facebook, which does a lot of different things with its service, should be required to turn over its entire source code to some tiny company with an overly broad patent. It sounds like Facebook is fighting this, as it should. I could understand (maybe) such an order if there were a charge of copyright infringement and direct copying of source code -- but a patent infringement claim shouldn't need source code.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:02am

    FB already said they'd appeal, and reversal rates on patent suits is between 50% and 70% depending on district. Move along, nothing to see here.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:09am

    Good for Leader Technologies! We've often wondered about Facebook's APIs- they seem very much like existing software. It will be great to see how/if some off-the-shelf software was extended and/or forked, and further determine if licenses need to be payed, or if violations to GPL have occured.

    Hopefully this is the first in a long series of licensing and information sharing agreements and Facebook will go legit.

     

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  3.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:15am

    Re:

    ..you work for myspace, don't you?

    I know *I* haven't "often wondered about Facebook's APIs" so who is this "We" you're speaking of? You and the mouse in your pocket?

     

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  4.  
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    suckerpunch-tm, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:26am

    Re:

    "We"? Who is "we"?

     

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  5.  
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    Bockscar93 (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:27am

    I'm a huge fan of Open Source but..

    Despite of my cheer leading for open source, Facebook has a right to keep its source code proprietary and for this stupid little company with a ridiculous patient that is stupidly encompassing is a little overboard.

    The US Patient system is so screwed up.

     

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  6.  
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    Christopher Smith, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:46am

    Prior art much?

    The patent claims sound like a description of Plan 9, which was first released in 1992. Even if Plan 9 had been patented, the patent would have expired by now.

     

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  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:05am

    Algorithms

    "I could understand (maybe) such an order if there were a charge of copyright infringement and direct copying of source code -- but a patent infringement claim shouldn't need source code."

    IIUC, the trick is that software patents are often patents on algorithms, in essence. So you do need the source code to see *how* it's coming up with results. If they got the same results through a different method, it's not infringing.

    This is, of course, a perfect example of why software patents make no sense.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:06am

    Facebook is not revolutionary

    I am a web developer and Facebook uses the same technology that any other website out there uses. PHP, a Database, Javascript, CSS, and AJAX. There are millions of sites that use these same technologies or a combination of them. That patent is just plain stupid as are the people who issued it. Its like patenting the use of the letter G in multiple words in a sentance. Of which if you worded it right I bet you could patent that. Facebook is basically a featured packed blog which is not difficult for even a middle of the road developer to write.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:15am

    Re: Facebook is not revolutionary

    FACEBOOK is Sharepoint

     

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  10.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    Echoing the sentiment, but who has been wondering about Facebook's APIs? This is the first I've ever heard of anyone questioning Facebook's APIs.

    And it's easy to mimic a set of APIs from another product. In fact, it's pretty common to allow for code for one service to be interchangeable with another service. It'd be SMART for Facebook to use existing API references used by other products so that developers wouldn't need to change as much source code to allow their code to work with different services.

    None of that requires the underlying code to be at all similar. Just the API call references.

     

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  11.  
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    sli, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:24am

    Wait, what?

    So... Leader Technologies owns a patent on SQL's JOIN and WHERE statements?

     

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  12.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:30am

    Re: Wait, what?

    To make matters worse, who among us isn't a little worried they'll get it?

     

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  13.  
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    Jimbo (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Seriously???

    So the patent fight is over "associating a piece of data with multiple categories"? Really has anyone heard of Relational Databases? This lawsuit is completely absurd.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Facebook is not revolutionary

    LOL - funny cause its true

     

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  15.  
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    MAtt, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:42am

    What about the people examining these patents?

    I hear constant railing - particularly on this site - against the US Patent Office/system. Has anyone tried to go to the source: the people examining and approving these patents? Granted, some are valid and the real examination is whether "A infringes upon B," but more often than not we wonder how the hell something was patented in the first place.

    Are there any patent examiners out there? Can you put up a good argument as to why this is legit?

     

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  16.  
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    John Doe, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:49am

    Wow, just wow...

    As a developer myself, I can't imagine how this patent could even get through. This is not only chilling, it would shut down the entire IT industry. Think about it; a website can show up in more than one kind of Google search so wouldn't Google be just as guilty?

    The Patent Office apparently is granting patents on things it knows nothing about. Where are the subject matter experts?

     

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  17.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re: Algorithms

    I could see that but not the entire source code. And even if it was just a part of the code, shouldn't they be able to do that in court and explain to the judge why it's different?

     

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  18.  
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    eMike, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 11:41am

    I don't get it...

    Reading through the patent (and I'm not entirely sure I understand it) it seems to be aimed more towards a different file system (like NTFS). The patent is correct in stating that traditional file systems associate files with folders, then check permissions for those files. It then says that it is novel because the file system is generated differently for each user.

    This seems to describe almost every single web site with a login that's ever been made. I have trouble seeing how it was novel in 2006 when the patent was issued, and I have trouble seeing how it could have been novel even at the end of 2003 when it was filed.

     

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  19.  
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    Danny, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Wow, just wow...

    The Patent Office apparently is granting patents on things it knows nothing about. Where are the subject matter experts?
    Thats just it. People trying to make rulings and pass judgement on things and issues they don't understand and instead of actually trying to learn about the issue at had they just let themselves by led by the hand of whoever can butter them up the best.

     

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  20.  
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    Tech Exec, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    Joke Patent - Legal Reality

    We live in a country where rights are defined by lawyers intent upon making the language of indirect democracy so contrived that only a savant could/would understand it. Patent law is no different, its patently ridiculous.

    This FB suit is just the tip of the iceberg where patent infringement suits are concerned, with legal firms established solely to buy up patents and sue everyone to make a living, and companies trying to patent everything from odor to the human genome to all forms of life on the planet. Its what happens when Corporations are given citizen's rights and pure profit motive steers the course.

    FB is NOT infringing on any standing patent, nor does the vague nature of the patent in question limit potential litigation to FB. These garbage patents far out number the legitimate ones. The real solution is to scrap both the patent and copyright systems, clean up the vague and litigous garbage, and re-institute the systems in a manner that reasonably protects intellectual property while equally protecting the citizenry.

    ** Oh, and kill the Corporate rights rulings - leave citizenship to the citizens.

     

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  21.  
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    Doctor Strange, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 1:46pm

    This is a complete non-issue. This happens all the time. Depending on the patent, you may certainly need source code to determine infringement. The idea behind a patent is to disclose enough that a person of ordinary skill in the art could implement or build the invention. For this, algorithms or procedures need to be disclosed. In these cases, you have to look at the code to determine if, as an above poster said, the same (or similar) results are being generated in a different way.

    If you think this code us just being handed over with no restrictions, you're nuts. This code will likely be under a protective order that very carefully circumscribes who can see the code, where, and for what purpose.

     

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  22.  
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    CleverName, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 5:25pm

    Re:

    Or -
    you could look at the patent, determine it is bullocks snd throw the tards out on their keisters. This would not only save the poor taxpayers a bunch of money, but it would send a message.

    btw, I thought algorithms were not given patent, copyright, or trademark protection. When did this change ?

     

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  23.  
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    staff1, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:49pm

    no-name

    "...publicity stunt by this no-name company..."

    In the late 1800's Herman Hollerith's tabulating company was a no-name firm, but is went on to become IBM. Ever hear of it?

    TechDirt?? Never heard of it.

     

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  24.  
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    arctic dolphin, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 7:56pm

    patent law is outmoded

    Facebook should fight this. The amount of abuse by patent trolls has to stop. When I worked for a major internet company, we were constantly being hit with frivolous suits like this. Every time there was no basis and no proof at all. This has to stop.

     

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  25.  
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    SLE, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 8:19pm

    I love the internet. It turns normal people into legal phenoms who can decide validity of patents and the proper outcome of lawsuits after reading a sarcastic, biased, paragraph-long blog. If only the legal system could add this kind of brainpower to their ranks all of our problems would be solved!

    Should be interesting to see where this case goes. Believe it or not, I don't know.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 5:03am

    Re: I'm a huge fan of Open Source but..

    how do you misspell patent twice in such a short space?!?

    my spell checker just kept me from making a fool out of myself by spellin gmisspell as mispell - whew! - dodged a bullet there!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 5:04am

    Re: Re: I'm a huge fan of Open Source but..

    but it didn't catch spellin gmisspell somehow - i freakin give up!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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