Apparently Facebook is trying to patent the idea of crowdsourced translations of its service
. The actual patent application
was filed in December of 2008, but the real priority date (I believe) is December of 2007 (when I think the company filed a provisional patent).
This one caught my attention for a few reasons -- with a major one being that way back in March of 2006, some friends of mine were working on a startup called Gabbly, which did online chat, and they had amazing success with crowdsourcing translations
. Now, the Facebook patent is a little more advanced, because beyond just asking people to translate, it includes a voting mechanism. But, still, the evolution of crowdsourced translations shows the total silliness of even trying to throw patents in the middle. Almost immediately after Gabbly started doing crowdsourced translations, another online chat provider, Meebo, did the same
. Gabbly used a forum. Meebo tried a wiki. Others picked up on the idea and did slightly different variations, and everyone kept innovating, and no one felt the need to own the concept of crowdsourced translations or to prohibit others from doing it.
But now, suddenly, there needs to be a patent on the concept?
I'm confused how anyone could think this meets the criteria of "promoting the progress." After all, plenty of others had figured out how to do crowdsourced translations earlier, and each one improved on the process a bit as they went. It's pretty obvious that including little voting mechanisms is an obvious next step (they were already popular on sites like Digg). So what benefit does the patent provider here other
than to slow down innovation? It's difficult to believe that this "innovation" would not have occurred but for the patent system -- or even that it would have taken longer to happen but for the patent system.
Hopefully, the USPTO quickly dumps this, but just the fact that Facebook and its lawyers felt this was worth patenting shows you something about the ridiculous state of the patent system today.