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. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), 8 Oct 2010 @ 6:16am

    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.

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