Facebook Gets Sued Over 'Community' Patent

Technology patent trolling seems to have become a regular pasttime — something that is influenced proprtionally with lucrative potential of a patent, and which the long-flawed approval process at the USPTO (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office) abets in the first place. Now there’s another questionable patent lawsuit, this one involving ‘online communities’, and naturally, Facebook is a target with its community of more than 400 million users.

In fact, the lawsuit was filed in 2007 — the patent in 2001 — but Facebook asked for temporary delay to explain — presumably to point out how ridiculous the patent wording is, or something of that nature. As Mike Masnick explains on Techdirt, there has to be tons of “prior art” on the concept of a “system for creating a community for users with common interests to interact in.”

This wording for patent 6,519,629 — which was approved in 2003 — is so broad that it could mean pretty much anything having to do with websites today, including the comment sections of blogs, of forums, and far more. My understanding of the patent process is that you have a limited time to file patent on an idea, and it cannot be accepted if the idea has been in the public domain in some form for over one year. (I have experience with USPTO details due to a search engine-based project via an employer, early in my Web career, and I’m basing my comment on this.)

Even if the one year limit is not true, the fact is that online communities have existed long before this patent filing, including newsgroups, BBSes, and probably forums. That in itself should suffice as prior art, if anyone at the USPTO bothered to use the Web itself to research patent claims. (Obviously none of them have heard of the Wayback Machine.) Be that as it may, the lawsuit is apparently proceeding. This isn’t the first time that Facebook has been sued over patents. Facebook also has its own patent relating to user affinity to an application.

What are your thoughts regarding software patents. Is the patent holder, Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, within their rights to sue, or is the USPTO at fault for allowing such a broadly-worded patent? Should there even be software patents?

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