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USPTO Lets Amazon Patent the "Social Networking System" 265

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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  • by jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:24PM (#32596770)
    it appears that the declining quality of education in this country is reaching all the way to the patent registrars themselves. What a fine example of stupidity and.. dare I say.. incredible ignorance we have here. Honestly, who the hell hasn't heard of Facebook? Where do they find these people?
  • by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:31PM (#32596846) Homepage
    The part of the patent posted in the article looks like the end. That's like patenting a Bicycle by saying it's a device with two wheels and some pedels which you can power to transport you places. Obviously that kind of patent would make not sense and there can be an infinite amount of bicycle designs which acheive the same goal but don't copy each other or rip each other off. In this case I highly doubt that Facebook actually took any code or even any major functionality from PlanetAll. I mean that's giving Facebook way too much credit. Basically Facebook was a dead technology until they went and merged a hack of Twitter's timeline in with their social networking system. Until they did that they didn't stand out from the pack at all.
  • While I don't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:33PM (#32596858) Journal
    agree with most patents like these, as long as it was awarded I personally would not at all mind seeing some cash rich entity open a can of whup-ass on Zuckerberg, at the very least it would be some form of karmic payback for stealing ( as is alleged) the Facebook idea from the students who hired him to help them. Cheating is one way to win at business, but not at life and I will never applaud a cheat, regardless of apparent success.
  • by skine ( 1524819 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:34PM (#32596868)

    If Facebook came afterward, then Facebook is not prior art.

    More importantly, the USPTO seems to allow patents on whatever hasn't been patented before, regardless of whether it should be patented.

    Honestly, I don't think this is the failure of the registrars, but a serious defect in the system that such a simple idea as social networking is patentable.

  • This is broken (Score:4, Insightful)

    by karlssberg ( 1025898 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:43PM (#32596948)
    Software patents are clearly a huge mistake. The US should never have allowed them. They are costing business in the US a fortune and do nothing to protect the little guy inventor with the next idea that will change the world. They are simply a tax on innovation and must be stopped immediately.
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:45PM (#32596962) Journal

    If Facebook came afterward, then Facebook is not prior art.

    The patent was filed in 2008. It literally looks like something that might have been written in 2000 and sat around in the bottom of a desk drawer for years before someone found it and mailed it in. Hell, it cites Palm Pilot, Lotus Notes, and the Internet White Pages as prior art, and nothing since!

  • Hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:59PM (#32597092)

    When a process runs amok and takes down the host OS, we don't blame the process. We blame the OS. The OS's job is to protect the host (and other processes) from errant processes.

    While it's certainly unethical behavior, I don't think we should rush to blame Amazon for this and any of its future actions. It's like putting candy in front of a baby and getting upset when the baby reaches for it.

    The patent system should be dismantled. It is obsolete.

    Failing that, software patents should be unquestionably and finally ruled invalid.

  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:47PM (#32597408) Journal

    That's why they're in patent trolling instead.

  • Re:Love it! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Random BedHead Ed ( 602081 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:56PM (#32597478) Homepage Journal

    Most likely, they'll just hold on to it and claim it's value.

    No, they'll hold onto it for cross-licensing purposes. The next time a business operating a service that vaguely qualifies as social networking tries to sue Amazon, Amazon plays this card. That's what patents mean to companies like Amazon: they're playing cards in a hand to prevent losing an expensive game. In a pinch Amazon could use it to extract licensing fees, but that's probably not their immediate intent.

  • Not (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:56PM (#32597482)

    It was not "published", so is not prior art.

    Let's spend more energy on this, instead of leading productive lives.

  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:57PM (#32597486)

    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.

    None of that matters. They didn't file until 2008. Therefore... anything existing before 2008 is prior art.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @09:36PM (#32597752)

    Which is, BTW, the real problem: you can file a patent application and keep rewriting it for a decade or more until somebody comes up with the same idea. Then you tweak the language to match perfectly and collect big-ass cash money. Software patents may be stupid, but the rules that allow this are Sarah-Palin-retarded.

  • Re:prior art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @09:59PM (#32597892) Homepage

    Hate to point out the obvious, but slashdot, relationships, journal, submit a story, karma, comment response emails, basically describes the principles of this patent. Perhaps the patent filers aren't low ID types and don't realise how long it has been around.

  • Re:Patent Trolling (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:19PM (#32598008)

    Except that's completely wrong. The Date of Invention is the earliest of 3 dates: the date of public disclosure, the earliest date of *continuous* development before the date of file, or the date of file.

    So, yes, obviousness does matter in this case, as does the DoI.

    WIth such esteem that they proclaim they have, you would think that Slashdotters would actually do the research they make fun of journalists for not doing, but no....

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman