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: location, patents
Companies: facebook, foursquare, gowalla


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2010 @ 8:00am

    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.

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