Facebook Wants To Own Idea Of Crowdsourced Translations

from the some-prior-art? dept

Apparently Facebook is trying to patent the idea of crowdsourced translations of its service. The actual patent application was filed in December of 2008, but the real priority date (I believe) is December of 2007 (when I think the company filed a provisional patent).

This one caught my attention for a few reasons — with a major one being that way back in March of 2006, some friends of mine were working on a startup called Gabbly, which did online chat, and they had amazing success with crowdsourcing translations. Now, the Facebook patent is a little more advanced, because beyond just asking people to translate, it includes a voting mechanism. But, still, the evolution of crowdsourced translations shows the total silliness of even trying to throw patents in the middle. Almost immediately after Gabbly started doing crowdsourced translations, another online chat provider, Meebo, did the same. Gabbly used a forum. Meebo tried a wiki. Others picked up on the idea and did slightly different variations, and everyone kept innovating, and no one felt the need to own the concept of crowdsourced translations or to prohibit others from doing it.

But now, suddenly, there needs to be a patent on the concept?

I’m confused how anyone could think this meets the criteria of “promoting the progress.” After all, plenty of others had figured out how to do crowdsourced translations earlier, and each one improved on the process a bit as they went. It’s pretty obvious that including little voting mechanisms is an obvious next step (they were already popular on sites like Digg). So what benefit does the patent provider here other than to slow down innovation? It’s difficult to believe that this “innovation” would not have occurred but for the patent system — or even that it would have taken longer to happen but for the patent system.

Hopefully, the USPTO quickly dumps this, but just the fact that Facebook and its lawyers felt this was worth patenting shows you something about the ridiculous state of the patent system today.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Facebook Wants To Own Idea Of Crowdsourced Translations”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Then Crowdsource the patent litigation

How can we possibly stop it? Boycott the use of the idea? That just hinders innovation. Convince the patent office not to patent it? They’re unelected (they’re appointed), remember, what do they care what the masses want?

Yet another example of how progress works just fine until patents get in the way.

Anonymous Coward says:

People need to understand something. Federal agencies like the USPTO, FDA, FCC, etc… are all appointed, they’re not elected directly by the people. As such elected officials get to use them as scapegoats. Elected officials act like they’re doing everything right but when big corporations want unethical laws passed they ask elected officials to hire scapegoats to do all the dirty work and people blame the scapegoats instead of the elected officials.

ake says:

Patenting an idea

I thought it was impossible to patent an idea… only a system?
I mean, is it possible to patent the idea of “crowdsourced translations”? Is it not just the overall system? In this case, someone might change the inside mechanics of the voting system and distribute it (and eventually put a patent on it ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

eclecticdave (profile) says:

Re: Patenting an idea

> I thought it was impossible to patent an idea

Well, that’s the way it *should* work, yes.

They way these things are actually done is, you submit a patent application describing your specific implementation – then you add a long list of Claims which amount to claiming that every other possible implementation is also covered by your patent.

Then your typical Patent Examiner rubber-stamps it and waves it through with barely a glance because he has a Quota to fill… (OK, I don’t actually *know* that last bit is true, but that’s the way it seems sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

USPTO says:

Re: Re: Patenting an idea

Pretty close, we actually get paid by the patents that we review. So like the iPhone app store we just Christmas tree the reviews…. Also, since were all patent lawyers, we know that the more patents we grant (especially the really obvious ones loaded down with prior art) the more business were bound to sink our fangs into once this gig ends. Not to mention, certain law firms hire us in droves in exchange for a wink wink review of anyhing they send across our desk. Hell, I approved a patent application for shoes that was sketched out on a bar napkin last week.

Andrew Calcutt (user link) says:

No way is that new

CrowdSourcing language packs is definitely not something new. Even in my own program (http://www.vistumbler.net), I had my first user submitted language pack on Dec 10th 2007 according to my forum (http://forum.techidiots.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=27&sid=e4b162d9750fbe846655c3f65b7b8aa4). I know I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last to do my language packs this way.

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