Friday, June 25, 2010

U.S. Patent No. 7739139: Social Networking, Assignee: Amazon Technologies, Inc.

On May 27th, 2008, Amazon Technologies, Inc. filed for a patent on social networking. Listing the inventors as Brian D. Robertson and Warren W. Adams, both from Massachusetts, Amazon's application number was 12/127,495. On June 15th, 2010, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Amazon Technologies, Inc., out of Reno, Nevada, a patent on social networking.

So what does this mean?

Well, I can't say exactly. Despite the fact that Amazon was awarded the patent on such a concept, I doubt anyone would actually uphold it. If you're wondering what lead Amazon to even file such a claim, Amazon bought PlanetAll in 1998 -- two years after PlanetAll went live -- and PlanetAll is widely considered the first social network. That is all fine and good, but the simple fact of the matter is that you cannot trademark, or patent, an idea. That Amazon has a working model (PlanetAll) is regardless; Amazon has every right to patent/trademark PlanetAll, but that's as far as it goes, and I think everyone basically gets that. I just don't think, should the patent ever be challenged, Amazon could successfully defend its "ownership" of what is a concept -- an idea -- and even if they do, you cannot trademark an idea!

I don't think this counts as "irony," but Amazon's description of social networking could literally be the copy lifted from Facebook's FAQ, and Facebook patented the News Feed! In fact, the more you get into all of this, the more patents surrounding social networking you will find.

Technically speaking, what Facebook patented here is their status update and unique "stream," which is actually a news feed (in the same manner as weblogs became blogs), so that passes the common sense test: It makes sense that Facebook should be able to protect its working model to some extent, in some manner, and the patent system -- for all its shortcomings -- is the best America has to offer right now. Again, Common Sense Rules.

Now, here's the scary part.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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