Amazon 'Friends' Patent Office: Gets Social Networking Patent

from the one-click-friending? dept

You may recall a few years ago that many people were up in arms over the ridiculousness of Friendster, the social network that kicked off the social networking craze (though it was hardly the first in the space), which got a patent (7,069,308) on the basics of social networking (claiming "a system and method for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks"). Lots of people pointed out the rather ridiculous amount of prior art on this patent, and feared that Friendster (by then very much an also-ran in the social networking world) was about to turn patent troll. Since then, the company has picked up a few more patents on some other aspects of social networking as well.

So, we were a bit surprised to see lots of folks sending over the news (first highlighted at Slashdot), that Amazon has been awarded a patent, 7,739,139, on a "Social networking system."

Even though it was only filed in 2008, that's not actually the relevant date. It's a continuation patent -- a dreadfully bad part of the patent system that is regularly abused to create "submarine" patents. While patent system defenders will deny this, the continuation process is regularly used to adjust what a patent covers over time, to make sure that it really covers more modern inventions than when it was originally filed. The Patent Office tried to stop this abuse by limiting continuations a few years ago, but a court eventually told them the USPTO couldn't actually do that. In this case, this patent isn't just a continuation patent, it's a continuation patent of a continuation patent of a continuation patent of an original patent filed back in 1997.

And, because of that, we get patents like this one. Since the priority date in November of 1997, all the fancy social networking stuff actually invented elsewhere doesn't count as prior art, but given how many such systems were built between now and then, it's hard to see how the specific claims in this patent could possibly pass the obviousness test. Tons of companies came up with identical systems over the years, suggesting that it was clearly the next obvious progression in this area.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 11:09am

    So much for patents encouraging inventions by encouraging people to find patent work arounds. Upon finding a work around some entity who contributed nothing to society will simply modify their existing patent to make it also cover that work around as well after the fact.

     

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  2.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 11:36am

    Re:

    Yeah, that seems to be a rather obvious backdoor attack.

    Fortunately our Civil Servants will stand guard for the citizens!

     

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  3.  
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    The Quasi-Mike (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 11:41am

    A great paper about continuation patent abuse

     

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  4.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 11:59am

    Re: My favorite patent

    FTP:


    The present inventor has created, through experimentation on a standard swing, a new and improved method of swinging.


    I just love software patents.

    Lastly, it should be noted that because pulling alternately on one chain and then the other resembles in some measure the movements one would use to swing from vines in a dense jungle forest, the swinging method of the present invention may be referred to by the present inventor and his sister as "Tarzan" swinging. The user may even choose to produce a Tarzan-type yell while swinging in the manner described, which more accurately replicates swinging on vines in a dense jungle forest. Actual jungle forestry is not required.


    Which begs the question: has anyone ever been sued for copyright infringement on a patent application and document?

    I wonder if he is going to file for a trapezoidal continuation...

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 12:44pm

    Re: My favorite patent

    I would like to try this method of swinging substantially parallel to the axis of a tree branch by alternately pulling on the two ropes and note that licenses are available from the inventor. Does anyone know how best to contact one Steven Olson (St. Paul, MN)?

     

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  6.  
    icon
    aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Re: My favorite patent

    There are only two Steven Olson's listen in the phone book. Give them a shot!

    http://www.google.com/search?q=Steven+Olson+St+Paul+MN&hl=en&pb=r

     

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  7.  
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    Simple Mind (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 1:35pm

    patent system fundamentally broken

    First I just need to say that this patent is absurd in its generality!

    But the main stupidity seems to be that they file a patent in 2008 that has tons of prior art, but get around that simply by saying the patent is a continuation of one from 1997, when there wasn't as much obvious prior art. (I still think there was, but that is a different matter.) If you read the one from 1997 it doesn't really have much to do with the one from 2008, so how is it they are allowed to connect them just to get around the obvious more recent prior art?

     

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  8.  
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    Simple Mind (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 1:56pm

    Re: A great paper about continuation patent abuse

    Perhaps I lack in imagination. But I fail to think of a situation where saying a patent was a continuation of another one would ever have a meaningful use? "Duh, oh yeah, I forgot to add this one little thing to the original patent. So let me just correct that now and add this one teensy weensy thing to it and modify it a bit. And we'll all just pretend it was always in there from the first place. ok?" Its only purpose seems to be for abuse.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    IRSMARTR, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 2:16pm

    PRIOR ART( @9 afterwards )

    M.U.D.S
    and IRC Chat.

    AND in a way one could argue that the net itself is actually designed in a way "a system and method for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks" .

    Your social network at work will have various ways it uses and connects to the net and socialize to other businesses ( seeing how USA corporations have many rights of people )


    Your social networks will vary by person and thus whom you connect to via the net.

    OHHHH STUPID PATENTS
    how about we just patent forever the toilet and charge these twits for flushing it down the drain.

    Exmaplefor #9
    So after the toilet invention patent, we had to make a new patent for the lever on the toilet cause we of course over the past 6 billion years we made them included the handle but forgot it in the design of the patent. THUS can we have a new patent lasting another 6 billion years?

    I would argue if your patent you put forth does not include something it should have ot make the design work then you have that patent nulled and since there is NOW prior art cause there is a device which has this included it can't now be patented. CALL that the YOU STUPID IDIOT YOU FD THE PATENT clause.

     

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  10.  
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    aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile), Jun 17th, 2010 @ 2:36pm

    Re: PRIOR ART( @9 afterwards )

    I remember MUDs. They were great for social networking. People who actually share your weird interest (MUDs) getting together online and being social. The first one of those was MUD and the program was written in 1978.

     

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  11.  
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    Jose_X, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 6:20am

    A lot of this foolishness would resonate with many voters if it's shown how they would lose (eg, by losing open source -- freebie -- software.. something that would make sense after open source has grown more in popularity.. though you can start with those that do use it today).

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 6:30am

    Re: PRIOR ART( @9 afterwards )

    >> I would argue if your patent you put forth does not include something it should have ot make the design work then you have that patent nulled and since there is NOW prior art cause there is a device which has this included it can't now be patented.

    Keep in mind that prior art are inventions that are spit upon by current law. Those with savviness and $$ to file as many patent claims as necessary to get it right (and sometimes with little or no desire to actually build things) get monopolies for 20 years, while brilliant inventions whose author keep themselves busy (eg, with open source software) get "well you should have patented it instead of donating it to society".

    My point is that I think patents should be automatic and $0 (like copyright) as a starting point to removing the very real bias towards the wealthy. [That or just abolish most patents.] At that point, it would be risky to sue and then find prior art since that other person could sue you. Also, it would become clearer that society functions because of how many people today don't seek broad patents.

    It's very unfair to many inventors that don't file patents to pretend that prior art recognition is acceptable in a world where the more greedy and wealthy among us can sign up for 20 year patent monopolies (made even more ridiculous by the submarine option).

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Jeff Yablon, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 8:11am

    Nonsense

    TOTAL Nonsense. Maybe ever worse/more so than the Facebook newsfeed patent. Patent 7739139 Commentary

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    staff, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 10:28am

    no such claim

    'claiming "a system and method for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks'

    They have no such claim. I have no idea where you got that from. If you can't report accurately, please stop.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 3:10pm

    Re: no such claim

    Did you not read the patent?

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2010 @ 9:17pm

    Re: Re: no such claim

    Why would RJR's shill have to be able to read a patent? All you need for qualifications is the ability to read large signatures.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Richard, Jun 19th, 2010 @ 7:08am

    Re: no such claim

    LOL, are you just instructed to say ANYTHING to refute a rock solid case against patents? You're as stupid as your master.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Mark Nowotarski, Jan 24th, 2011 @ 3:54pm

    7000 social network patents

    There are now 7000 social network patent applications on file and growing at +20% per year. More details at “Don’t Steal My Avatar! Challenges of Social Network Panents”, IP Watchdog January 23, 2011 http://ipwatchdog.com/2011/01/23/don%E2%80%99t-steal-my-avatar-challenges-of-social-networking-paten ts/id=14531/

     

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


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