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USPTO Lets Amazon Patent the "Social Networking System" 265

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-your-farmville-are-belong-to-us dept.
theodp writes "After shelling out a reported $90 million to buy PlanetAll in 1998, Amazon shuttered the site in 2000, explaining that 'it seemed really superfluous to have it running beside Friends and Favorites.' But years later in a 2008 patent filing, Amazon described the acquired PlanetAll technology to the USPTO in very Facebook-like terms. And on Tuesday, the USPTO issued US Patent No. 7,739,139 to Amazon for its invention, the Social Networking System, which Amazon describes thusly: 'A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations. The system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.' So, should Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg worry about Amazon opening a can of patent whup-ass?"
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USPTO Lets Amazon Patent the "Social Networking System"

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  • Invalid (Score:3, Informative)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:34PM (#32596876) Homepage

    The time limit for patenting after public sale or disclosure is one year. A judge would declare the patent invalid and throw this case out in five minutes. Minimal attorney fees will be involved.

    IANAL, but I have seen a similar case thrown out where the patent was filed one year and three days after first sale.

  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheGeniusIsOut (1282110) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:36PM (#32596890)

    It looks like the buyout by Amazon does predate Friendster and MySpace... though to be honest, there's no way in hell this should pass any "obvious" test.

    That may well be true, but, the website based social networking sites are far from the first to utilize this "technology"

    'A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations. The system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.'

    This has a very strong similarity to "elite" status granted to users of old school dial up BBSs for uploading or otherwise providing coveted data or services. Such similar systems were even loosely in place within AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and other dial-up ISPs long before 1998. Even forum profiles could conceivably fall into this category.

  • by trentblase (717954) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:44PM (#32596950)
    This is a continuing application claiming priority to an application originally filed in 1997.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:52PM (#32597026)

    Couple things:

    - The date to beat is Nov. 2, 1997, not the 2008 filing date. That is, art after Nov. 2, 1997 is not prior art.
    From the patent: This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/022,089, filed Dec. 22, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,386,464 which is a division of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/780,486, filed Feb. 17, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,194,419 which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/348,355, filed Jul. 7, 1999 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,714,916), which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 08/962,997, filed Nov. 2, 1997 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369).

    - The abstract of the patent, quoted above, is not the critical part. The claims are what determine infringement. Here, the claims are pretty broad and do seem to cover facebook.

    -- Patent Attorney

  • It's all BS. (Score:3, Informative)

    by msauve (701917) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:53PM (#32597040)
    First, it's obvious that there was prior art for the patent as described, when it was filed in 2008.

    Second, even if Planetall used a unique and patentable invention in 1998, it cannot be patented with an application filed in 2008. Here's a descriptive quote from the MIT Technology Licensing Office:

    The U.S. patent law system is among the most lenient in the world with regards to prior disclosure of your invention. It allows you to publish your invention or offer it for sale prior to filing a patent application, provided that you file your patent application within one year of the publication or offer for sale. If you wait longer than one year, your patent rights are forfeited. The one-year period is a "grace period." - MIT-TLO [mit.edu]

  • by tkohler (806572) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:58PM (#32597072)
    It appears that you have failed law school or at least the part of the patent bar that recognizes that the first effective filing date of this patent is 2 Nov 1997. "RELATED APPLICATIONS This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/022,089, filed Dec. 22, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,386,464 which is a division of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/780,486, filed Feb. 17, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,194,419 which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/348,355, filed Jul. 7, 1999 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,714,916), which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 08/962,997, filed Nov. 2, 1997 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369). "
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:10PM (#32597174)

    Well lets see... there was sixdegrees.com [wikipedia.org] in 1997. AOL... Usenet... prodigy... FidoNET...

  • by rilister (316428) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:37PM (#32597344)

    Thanks for asking! Most people just go ahead and comment...

    You are in violation of a patent if you violate any single claim - but!

    Typically, you can describe claims as "independent" or "dependent" - in this case Claims 1 and 13 are the independent claims: they don't refer to any other claims.

    These are the most important claims. To work out if you're in violation of a patent, read these first. If you aren't covered by either of these, then you aren't violating the patent.

    The dependent claims (all the others) build on the independent claims by adding detail of some sort. You can't be in violation just by having the same detail in your implementation: you have to be violating this claim and the independent claim it refers to together.

    By the way, most discussions on patents on Slashdot are usually the result of an accumulation of misinterpretations of the way patents work. It's really *only* the claims that matter, and when the other parts seem broad, it doesn't matter at all. Don't get riled up by the background text or the abstract - as people so often do. However, to my eyes, (IANAL) this patent actually is absurd, for once.

  • RELATED APPLICATIONS This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/022,089, filed Dec. 22, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,386,464 which is a division of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/780,486, filed Feb. 17, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,194,419 which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/348,355, filed Jul. 7, 1999 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,714,916), which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 08/962,997, filed Nov. 2, 1997 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369).

    That last one is the prior art date - November 2, 1997. This predates Facebook, Friendster, and all that jazz by half a decade.

  • Re:It's all BS. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @09:28PM (#32597708)

    The patent has a valid priority chain going all the way back to 2 November 1997. That means that the effective filing date of this patent is 2 November 1997.

    See 35 USC 120 [uspto.gov].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @09:43PM (#32597780)

    Slashdot is fond of finding patents that describe an invention in very broad terms and then say someone else did that. Whoever does that doesn't understand patents. Before complaining go to the section labeled Claims. A claim will contain a number of elements. If previous literature does every single one of those elements then the patent should not have been granted. Otherwise the patent holder can go after someone who does every single one of those things. If someone doesn't do even a single thing listed, then the patent is useless against them. There are many patents that should not be granted but only a small percent of what Slashdot complains about have anything to do with the real patent issue and needlessly inflame people.

                Here's the claim for this patent:

                What is claimed is:

                1. A computer-implemented method, comprising: receiving and storing personal data of a first user of a computer-based service, said computer-based service accessible to users over a network, said personal data specified by the first user; providing a user interface for users to establish contact relationships with other users of the service such that each user can have one or more contacts, said user interface enabling a user to identify other users of the service, and to selectively initiate the generation of requests to establish contact relationships with the identified users; receiving a request from a second user of the service to establish a contact relationship with the first user, said request submitted to the service over a network via said user interface; sending a notification of the request to the first user over a network; providing an option, in connection with said request, for the first user to grant permission for the second user to view at least some of the personal data of the first user; and in response to the first user granting said permission, providing the second user access to at least some of the personal data of the first user via a contact information user interface of the service, such that the second user is provided access to data that would not otherwise be accessible to the second user via the service; wherein the method, including receiving and storing the personal data, providing the user interface, receiving the request, sending the notification, providing said option, and providing the second user access, is performed by a server computer system.
     

  • Re:Prior art? (Score:4, Informative)

    by tsm_sf (545316) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:51PM (#32598218) Journal
    Here's [escholarship.org] an interesting article on patent continuation abuse, hot off a google. No idea how accurate it is, but worth reading.
  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:5, Informative)

    by adf92343414 (1332481) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:35PM (#32598518)
    Bzzt! Wrong. From http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/index.html#novelty [uspto.gov] :

    In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined in the patent law, which provides that an invention cannot be patented if: "(a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent," or "(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States . . ."

    If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it was known or used by others in this country before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost. The inventor must file on the date of public use or disclosure, however, in order to preserve patent rights in many foreign countries.

    Even if the subject matter sought to be patented is not exactly shown by the prior art, and involves one or more differences over the most nearly similar thing already known, a patent may still be refused if the differences would be obvious. The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention. For example, the substitution of one color for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable.

    But hey, feel free to go ahead and make stuff up about continuous development - that'll get you an upmod, despite it being hogwash. Not that GP was completely correct - there's that one year window where somebody else can describe / publish an invention that you have been working on but haven't filed a patent for. If you can file within the year and prove you started inventing it before the other person, then you have a chance of a valid patent. But after the one year window, it doesn't matter when you started working on your invention.

    #include "ianal.h"

  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:5, Informative)

    by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @01:42AM (#32599098)

    This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/022,089, filed Dec. 22, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,386,464 which is a division of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/780,486, filed Feb. 17, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,194,419 which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/348,355, filed Jul. 7, 1999 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,714,916), which is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 08/962,997, filed Nov. 2, 1997 (now U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369).

    A continuation application [wikipedia.org] gets the same precedence date as the original patent but validity time from the date of acceptance. The Wikipedia article referenced, whilst lacking some citations seems to be correct (at least it's current version [wikipedia.org]) as you can verify against the the Patent office FAQ [uc.edu]

    This is an extremely evil patent.

  • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @01:58AM (#32599136) Journal

    The application was filed in 2008, true. But look! Here's another patent [uspto.gov] with essentially the same disclosure (different claims) that was filed in 1997! Magic!!

    Amazon went back and looked at their old technology, thought about it a bit, and realized that they had already all the core components of Facebook, they just hadn't realized it as such. And in the US system, even if you didn't realize it at the time, as long as you disclosed it you win.

    This kind of nonsense can be stopped if you tell applicants that they have to claim everything they're going to claim in their first application (keep divisionals based on restriction requirements but otherwise curtail continuation and CIP practice, to be technical). This is not a theoretical argument, either: Europe has just recently adopted a system like this, major pieces go into effect on October 1. See this PDF [sutherland.com] for more information. Executive summary of the European system: your invention is locked down two years after the first time the patent office sends you a letter. You don't get to go back 10 years later claiming you invented Google or something.

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