Facebook Patents Foursquare?

from the ah,-modern-competition dept

A bunch of folks have sent in the news that Facebook has apparently been granted a very broad patent covering all sorts of location-based “check-in” type services. The patent in question (7,809,805) almost certainly would cover what Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Lattitude and others have done. Of course, it’s interesting to note that Facebook itself started offering a product in this space just a couple months ago, when lots of folks noted that it was “late to the game.”

The patent filing appears to predate most of the competitors in the space, so it’s not like those competitors directly represent prior art. However, Dodgeball, the company that Google acquired (and basically killed) whose founders went on to start FourSquare definitely predates this patent. Even so, there are lots of companies exploring various location-based offerings for many years. The problem wasn’t that it needed some big “invention” over how to create a location-based social network. The problem was that the technology hadn’t caught up yet: i.e., there weren’t that many smartphones with GPS. Once that happened, it was natural to build more location-based services. So it seems particularly silly to patent something that was naturally going to come about once GPS in phones became more common… but that’s how the patent system works.

To be fair, to date, Facebook hasn’t been known for asserting its patents against other companies (trademarks are another story). But, it’s still pretty ridiculous. After all, as it stands right now, there’s healthy competition in this particular market, and it’s causing all of the players (and some new ones) to keep on innovating and trying to offer better service. If Facebook actually asserted its patent here, it would do the opposite — and that seems like a clear situation of hindering progress, rather than enabling it.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: facebook, foursquare, gowalla

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Comments on “Facebook Patents Foursquare?”

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25 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

still somewhat effective patent

From Facebook’s perspective this may still be effective at discouraging new companies from entering the field. The venture capital for any new location based service companies probably just dried up.

I have tried a couple of these services and have explored using most of them. None of them seem to me to have gotten it completely right. I think there is still room for a new company to come in and sweep up the market. With the patent announcement that is less likely too be a new kid on the block.

It probability does not matter that the parent is almost certainly invalid. Facebook wins just by having the threat of a lawsuit.

staff says:

you do the bidding

“If Facebook actually asserted its patent here, it would do the opposite”

Face it, you hate patents, or at least vehemently oppose likely because you do the bidding of large corporate infringers. But without patents, small entities have no chance of benefiting from their discoveries. Once they prove a market large well funded firms step in and elbow them out. You are not a journalist. All your writing is payola. You are a saboteur. All you do is spread misinformation and bias.

staff says:

Re: you do the bidding

Face it, you hate patents, or at least vehemently oppose likely because you do the bidding of large corporate infringers. But without patents, small entities have no chance of benefiting from their discoveries. Once they prove a market large well funded firms step in and elbow them out. Are you a journalist? All your writing looks like payola and makes you appear to be a saboteur. All you do is spread misinformation and bias.

Anonymous Coward says:

But Mike, claiming that the USPTO will grant more bogus patents is apurely speculative and unproven prediction. Heck, “You might be surprised to see that very few issues may come up with patents granted this year due to increased quality assurance.”

Besides, the USPTO has always granted bogus patents so how can you prove that the problem is worse and that their granting of more patents with about the same cost and number of inspectors is going to lead to more bogus patents? Maybe it got better but this is just one of the bogus patents that they would have granted regardless. So nothings changed and you have nothing to worry about. This is just a continuation of the bogus patents that the USPTO granted before and since we’re already used to that and life and everything didn’t turn out worse than it did then we should just accept it. The USPTO will continue granting bad patents but who cares, we’ll manage just like we always have. Heck, with this speculative surprise in quality assurance there is even the potential that the USPTO might grant a good patent or two, who knows.

Anonymous Coward says:

@staf : Hmmm, so if patents help the little, guy, or asyou put it, it’s the only way they stand a chance, please explain:

1. Why, large software companies, who initially feared process patents, have spent BILLIONS lobbying for their proliferation? Could it have something to do with the skyrocket cost of patent litigation? Coupled with a very low rate of success at trial. Most folks who arent exploiting the system, as I’m sure you are, know something has to be done ASAP.

2. Why startups don’t go patent gaga from the word go. I mean face it, innovative startups are the prey, not the predator as you suggest? These companies thrive, rise to dominate some sector then start looking for ways to burn the ships, so others can’t do as they did.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think (if it was Ron J Resnick who made the “Staff” post, or some think-alike) that “Staff” is not a champion of startups, per se, but of individual inventors who maybe don’t have the wherewithal to do a startup.

I never read an argument from them in defense of startups, but rather of the guy with the so-called “flash of genius”. This guy, apparently is unable to get funding and actually execute his idea, but he’s damned talented at working the USPTO for monopolies on an idea.

It seems to me that RJR is not just against big companies, as he always writes, but any company big or small. Every bit of progress, in this view, belongs to some name on some patent, and that inventive person should get all rewards.

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