Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Friendster Continues To Build Friendlier Relations With The Patent Office

from the wonderful dept

What were we recently saying about companies that fail in the marketplace suddenly focusing on patent infringement as a new strategy? It certainly looks like Friendster may be heading down that path. Back in July, the company was granted an extremely broad patent on social networking followed up by a second broad patent in October. The company is excited to announce that it's now received its third broad patent, this time for a "System and method for managing connections in an online social network." It's not at all clear why such a broad concept deserves such a patent.

It's hard to see what good a patent does in a situation like this. The patent system is supposed to create incentives to create new products -- but it seems quite likely that Friendster would have been created even without the patent protection. In fact, Friendster creator Jonathan Abrams has said as much. He built Friendster not because of the patents, but to help him meet women. A second rationale given for the patent system is that it helps disclose these inventions -- but there's nothing in the patent that's so new and revolutionary it needs to be disclosed through the patent system. All of it is self-evident from the way the software works. Finally, the reason that Friendster was eclipsed by companies like MySpace and Facebook wasn't because they "stole" Friendster's idea, but because they did it better. That's the nature of competition. Friendster got so focused on trying to please its VCs that it stopped being useful to its users -- so they moved on. That's how competition is supposed to work. If you don't server your users, they'll find somewhere else to go. That's a good thing, because it helps continue to drive innovation. So, the patent served none of the purposes it was supposed to -- but now may be used by the company that failed in the marketplace to go after those who actually were successful and actually did a better job delivering what the customer wanted.

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  • identicon
    DT, 15 Mar 2007 @ 10:20pm

    I can't wait to see the lawsuits.

    Absolutely 100% agree. And this is why we need serious change in patent law.

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

    • icon
      James (profile), 16 Mar 2007 @ 4:59am

      Re: I can't wait to see the lawsuits.

      This whole problem and most of the problems plagueing our Country are caused by the damn lawyers. Greedy bloodsucking b@st@rd$.

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

      • icon
        Vincent Clement (profile), 16 Mar 2007 @ 6:14am

        Re: Re: I can't wait to see the lawsuits.

        No, I blame the USPTO for approving such broad patents in the first place without ever considering obviousness.

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

  • identicon
    Sanguine Dream, 16 Mar 2007 @ 6:07am

    I can see it now...

    So when MySpace and Facebook get what will Techdirt use as the title?

    1. Maybe if Tom had Friendster in his Top 8 he wouldn't be getting sued.

    2. Suing isn't the best way to get added to Tom's Friends list.

    3. How to succed in the social networking business without really trying.

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

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