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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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  • prior art (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sugarmatic ( 232216 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:23PM (#32596752)

    My company in the mid 90's had an online resume system for internal postings that allowed people to post resumes anonymously, and hiring managers could share postings and information selectively based on whatever criteria they wanted, effectively filtering job seekers.

    This is prior art.

  • Unbelievable (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bteed ( 1832400 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:30PM (#32596832)
    I don't even completely fault Amazon for this, the system is so broken that a company needs its own patent arsenal to defend itself from trolls. This one is really egregious, though.
  • by Plekto ( 1018050 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:30PM (#32596840)

    Prior Art can be found going back as early as the 1970s:

    ***grabbed this from wikipedia**
    The first public dial-up Bulletin Board System was developed by Ward Christensen. According to an early interview, while he was snowed in during the Great Blizzard of 1978 in Chicago, Christensen along with fellow hobbyist Randy Suess, began preliminary work on the Computerized Bulletin Board System, or CBBS. CBBS went online on February 16, 1978 in Chicago, Illinois. [2]

    If he's talking about the Internet, though, that award goes to VMS Notes - (don't have exact date - early to mid 1980s), which functioned similar to a stripped-down version of Usenet, but in a live chat manner.

  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:32PM (#32596854) Homepage

    Even the USPTO has its own Facebook page. Bizarre!

    http://www.facebook.com/uspto.gov [facebook.com]

    Why does the USPTO need that when their own website is sufficient for posting information...

    Or is social networking how the USPTO decides applications now ... get enough "Likes" and you're approved ;)


  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:36PM (#32596884)

    Filing extensions. It's how more than a few patent trolls managed to set their patents up, by continually filing extensions and amending them to better line up with where technology was going already then dropping them like bombs on anyone that came along.

  • damn... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:37PM (#32596894)
    How long is it going to take before they stop allowing software and business practice patents? This is just getting silly.
  • Prior Art (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bobfrankly1 ( 1043848 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:49PM (#32597002)

    A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users.

    How long has 411 been using a networked computer system?

  • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:55PM (#32597054)

    I'm very pro-patents. I think they are necessary to spur new innovations in technology and, more importantly, share innovations with everyone as quickly as possible. Without patents, almost all manufacturing would be a trade secret, instead of the knowledge being spread world-wide as soon as a new invention arises. This, I think, is vital to our society.

    However, the more I think about the nature of software the more I think software patents are unnecessary, even for the true innovations out there, and therefore actually harmful to progress. With traditional patents, what you get is a machine design, which by necessity must give you the "secret" to the innovation. That secret can be small, so long as it's new and non-obvious it's still worth copying. But with the current state of software patents, even if you read the patent you must still either re-create the patented idea from scratch, using the patent as nothing more than a direction (with no "secret" revealed at all), or you must reverse engineer the product to discover the secret for yourself. That doesn't spread the knowledge of the innovation at all, and does nothing to add incentive to the creators of a new innovation. In fact, thanks to patent trolls, it actually inhibits innovation in a lot of cases.

    In my opinion, software patents need to either start coming with pseudo-code or be dismissed out of hand. All this bullshit of just listing a bunch of claims without any actual code behind it that can be applied by a software engineer is worthless. If the patent doesn't need any code for a competent engineer to re-create the product, then it's obviously not novel and should have been dismissed in the first place. Given the speed with which the software industry moves and strength of the open source movement, I think there is also strong evidence to suggest they are entirely unnecessary to promote innovation (which is what they exist to do).

  • hooray! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bugi ( 8479 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @07:57PM (#32597062)

    I for one applaud amazon's efforts at destroying the patent system by demonstrating the extent of its absurdity.

  • by Plekto ( 1018050 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:03PM (#32597120)

    (Sorry for the double-post, but perhaps this can help some smart lawyer to help get this inane patent revoked)

    A more in-depth explanation of VMS Net and VMS is required:
    - The original intent was to create a version of an early Internet by linking VMS machines/clusters together like a super BBS. Eventually that fell away to where by the mid 80s or so, standard Internet/TCP IP/etc protocols had taken over and were being used. What it meant was that any university or major corporation that allowed access could link their machines to others and create a "web" of sites. These universities and corporations/government sites were the major original backbone of the Internet, so by definition it "used the Internet".

    - How this worked in practice when I was at college in 1991 and first saw it(it had been implemented a year or two earlier, IIRC) was that each user had a space where they could program and make their own home page/space to use. Almost everyone had ASCII BBS type front-ends, complete with links, menus, and personal areas. This was a few years before the first web browsers came out, but functionally identical.

    - The VMS link/Notes system usually was organized by areas, so that it was common to see a smaller discussion area devoted to each person. (in addition to the normal BBS/board type chat areas. So this was where everyone talked about their life, and so on, a lot like Facebook. You usually linked to your account's main page so that others could see and go there as well. (It was less thread driven and more topic driven by nature) ie - Ed's Corner/Life with Sandy/and so on... The admin found it easier to keep personal stuff limited to each main person/give them their own thread.

    - There also was a live chat option as well. I remember getting online, checking out people's "pages" and so on when I was in Northern California for people who were in San Diego. And then logging into their local chat area and talking to them. In 1991.

    Nothing really like it existed until much later, though, and so it's highly likely that nobody at these newer companies realized that a nearly identical thing to Facebook/etc existed that long ago on the Internet.(and of course BBS systems, but those technically didn't use the "Internet" until much later.(still early 90s - way before this patent's time-frame.)

  • by dwarfsoft ( 461760 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:22PM (#32597260) Homepage
    Exactly what I was thinking. Friends and Foes infringes on this patent. Having said that, the fact that they only applied for a patent after these types of systems were already built should stop it from being enforceable right? Prior art?
  • by EWAdams ( 953502 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @08:25PM (#32597284) Homepage

    First there was the Who program that let you see who was logged on. Then Les Earnest wrote the Finger program which displayed their .plan file. This enabled them to share personal information like which high school they went to. Then you could send them E-mail or ttymsgs and talk about it. The Name/Finger protocol makes it work over the network. Social networking in a nutshell.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:10PM (#32597956)

    All together now: "To a first approximation, the only thing that matters in a patent are the claims. The title means nothing."

    To my knowledge no BBS implemented the claims contained in the patent.

  • Re:Like (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:26PM (#32598452)

    Like how in braveheart the bad guy got to screw mel gibsons wife on their wedding day. It's kind of like that.

    I thought he was the good guy just exercising his right to lease his intellectual property.

    Mel died in the end which proves my point since hollywood loves a happy ending where the bad guys gets their just punishment.

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

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @08:52AM (#32601056) Homepage

    OK, I was a member of Quantum Link, a Commodore 64 and 128 super-BBS which was the predecessor of AOL. It was founded in 1985, had hundred of thousands of members, and they could search for each other based on profiles and information contained therein. We could chat, send each other messages, even play cooperative games. It may have been a little to simplistic to fully qualify as "prior art", but certainly by the early 90's after it had morphed into AOL, and started allowing non-Commodore computers in, it did everything described.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"