Facebook Wins Patents For Tagging in Photos, Other Digital Media

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By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

Tagging was arguably the feature that made Facebook the biggest photo site in the world and seeded the idea for creating the platform.

Now the company has finally won a patent for it.

Nearly five years after the company originally filed for the invention, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave Facebook a patent protecting the ability to select a region in a piece of media (like a photo or video) and associate people or other entities with it. Mark Zuckerberg, longtime designer-turned-product architect Aaron Sittig and former Facebook engineer Scott Marlette were credited as inventors.

Zuckerberg has long talked about photo tagging as the innovation that helped him and other early Facebook employees initially conceive of the idea for the platform. The company did a competitive analysis of all other photo products out on the web and while Facebook didn’t offer features like high resolution or printing, it still outcompeted rivals simply because it centered its product around people, and not around technical capabilities. Last year the company said it was seeing more than 100 million photo uploads a day. It has not updated that statistic since.

Because of photo tagging’s initial success, the company started thinking about other products and verticals that could be reinvented around social behavior. When it became clear that with limited engineering resources, the company wouldn’t be able to create every single possible idea on top of the social graph, it opened up the ability for other third-party developers to do so.

The company won one other patent in the last month too: the ability to give gifts in a social networking environment. This one was credited to Jared Morgenstern, who is a product manager on the games team. Gifts were ultimately deprecated in 2010, but virtual goods have become an indirect source of revenue for the company through its currency Credits.

Facebook also applied for four search-related patents in the last month that control how results are shown to users based on their social proximity to the information or how often they access it. All of those patents are credited to Christopher Lunt, Nicholas Galbreath and Jeffrey Winner.