Online Communities Patented; Lawsuit Against Facebook Moves Forward

from the online-communities-of-interest? dept

It’s always fun to see patent system defenders in our comments insist that the patent system rarely makes mistakes in issuing patents, and how really bad patents get pushed out upon review. And yet… then we hear stories like the following one. Four guys, back in 2001 filed for a patent (6,519,629) on a “system for creating a community for users with common interests to interact in.” Seriously. Reading through the patent application, I’m having trouble seeing how this wasn’t covered by a ton of prior art. What in that patent does not apply to early BBS systems, for example? And, even if there really is something new (I can’t find anything), how is putting together an online community not an obvious thing?

Back in 2007, the company holding that patent, Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, sued Facebook. In turn, Facebook asked for the trial to be held up while it explained to some patent examiners that they were insane to think this was patentable. Apparently, the patent examiners haven’t used the internet very much, and affirmed the validity of the patent — so the lawsuit is now back on. This is just one in a growing series of patent lawsuits against Facebook — once again highlighting that once you get big enough to be noticed, some nobody will sue you for patent infringement.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Online Communities Patented; Lawsuit Against Facebook Moves Forward”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

First country to rid themselves of software patents is going to have a spectacular amount of new business (my $$ on Spain). A thriving new economy that will actually produce rather than paying people, to have at one time, thought about producing.

Pretty sure Europe mostly already excludes software patents. Not *entirely* as there was a lawsuit in the UK that changed the rule recently to allow certain software patents, but for the most part, software is not considered patentable in Europe.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

New Zealand is in the process of changing their Patent Act. As seen in Clause 15(3a) here [ ] “A computer program is not a patentable invention.”

Though it is still in the process of committee and they are considering whether to change it slightly to make embeddable apps patentable *shrug* [ ]

Oh and as for this supposed article. I just briefly read the actual patent application and their flowcharts and explanation are VERY similar to process and Requirement diagrams/notes that I developed in late 1997 to do with a few online communities that I was involved with back then (Namely Biancas, The Park, et al.) which were themselves drawn from Multi-user BBS systems, which were themselves drawn from older MUD and Telecom Mainframe Chat Systems 😉

I wonder if Stewart Brand and/or Larry Brilliant of The Well know about this bullshit patent?

Anonymous Coward says:

Back in the early 1990’s, a friend of mine owned a profit-making social-networking BBS that had been around for at least five years when he was audited by the IRS. The agent was incredibly rude and condescending – insisting this was a hobby, a fad, and nothing would ever come of it being a legitimate business. Luckily, he’d viewed the business from day one as a profit-making venture, and he had lawyers and financial people on retainer.

Further, my friend was openly threatened with financial ruin and even criminal prosecution. In the midst of the audit, one of his children was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic head injury. When the IRS agent asked my friend’s lawyers and accountant why he wasn’t at a scheduled hearing, they explained ‘His kid is having brain surgery.’ The agent actually said out loud ‘I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that story.’ At least he had the decency (as we heard the story later) to turn beet red and apologize when the lawyer whipped out a copy of some paper from the hospital, proving the child was scheduled that day for brain surgery.

Exhibit 1 was a Time or Newsweek magazine cover story about the future of the internet superhighway. By the end of the audit, not only did the agent decide my friend was actually owed a refund, but he apologized profusely. Which I thought was pretty funny – this was in the midst of the major asshole years of the IRS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Prior art

I forgot about the MUDs! That was a secondary feature available through my friend’s BBS – we were able to play against users of other BBS systems. He added internet access but at that moment in time (1993 or so) the provider was charging him per minute and there was no easy way to pass that cost onto the paid subscribers of his board.

Microsoft more or less bought him out in 1996 – it was a wonderful transition. They hired him to ‘run a BBS’ on the MSN network, and he was paid an insane amount of money to sit home in his underwear and moderate a couple of forums.

No more worries about server maintenance, paying a credit card processor or collecting subscriber fees because now he was an employee (actually, an independent contractor) for Microsoft. The timing was perfect, because the last commercial BBS in our area was gone by 1998.

Anonymous Coward says:

1998 – Original application filed.
2000 – Continuation-in-part application filed.
2001 – CIP filed in 2000 divided into two applications.
2007 – Suit filed
2008 – inter parties reexamination filed.
2009 – Reexam (in which both parties involved) upheld claims
2010 – Lawsuit restarted

It helps to have a timeline since it helps determine the relevant dates for what is construed as “prior art”.

Based upon the results of the reexamination, it is likely that the parties will settle.

As for what constitutes prior art, if this patent claims patently obvious subject matter, then it should be relatively easy for someone to read each claim (each claim stands on its own) and identify relevant prior art that pertains to each claim limitation in each claim.

Of course, this is almost always easier said than done.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Guelph CoSy System.

Anyone who is interested in breaking this patent, 6,519,629, might find it worthwhile to look at the CoSy system, which was developed at the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

Circa 1990, a group of us at the University of Oregon were using a CoSy system, with the sitename CIE (Campus Information Exchange) on the local network. The founding organizer was a man named Steve VanDevender. His lieutenant was a man named Neil Ivan Parker. They were both still at Oregon when I last heard from them, but that was some years ago.

Circa 1990, CoSy supported multiple “conferences,” each of which had its own moderator, appointed by the general manager, and the moderator could create “subconferences” within the conference, and could manage a list of persons allowed to view the conference, as well as deleting posts, etc. Within a subconference, there was, if I recall rightly, a threaded discussion system. Cosy also supported its own internal e-mail and “chat” (ie. instant messenger), as well as member profile pages. CoSy was appreciably in advance of CompuServe’s systems at the time. It would certainly be a starting point for KSR v. Teleflex analysis of the ‘629 Patent.

Here is a statistical portrait of CIE. This was a Unix/CoSy system, built with the expectation that people were entitled to know quite a lot about each other. It was possible to determine things like when people had last logged on. As of 1994, there were about three hundred people on the books, meaning they had been given passwords. No one was given a password without taking some positive initiative, ie. sending in a snailmail application or going in to an office to see someone. No one achieved membership by “clicking.” Only about a hundred people had logged in since 1991, however, and about forty had chosen to personalize the “resume pages” provided by the system. Between them, they generated something like five megabytes of text in three years (practically none of it quotation, which the system rendered superfluous).

staff says:

good money after bad

“patent system defenders in our comments insist that the patent system rarely makes mistakes in issuing patents”

It’s not that the PTO does not make mistakes, but rather when they do it rarely matters as those patents are seldom enforced because it costs millions to assert a patent and no one will throw good money after bad.

Patent reform is a fraud on America. It is patently un-American.
Please see for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

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