More Patent Nonsense

Facebook has received a patent on the idea of "Dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network."

As if this was a novel idea whenever the patent was filed. 

Here's a comment I read on the story linked to above:

This is weird news. I run a small local social community and also use some kind of newsfeed system. Yet the earliest version of my newsfeed dates from 2003, way before facebook’s feed. If they wanted to, they could easily crush me with this patent as I dont have the judical knowledge and financial power to enter a legal battle with facebook. The could close me down, although everyone would know that it’s only because they have this patent, not because I copied the newsfeed from them.

Weird news indeed. But not surprising. As another commenter on that story wrote, "Shoot, I’ll patent “friendship”." 

Software patents make no sense. Like music, art, and other creative pursuits, software is almost always derivative work. There is not a chance in hell that Facebook invented this idea. I am certain there have been social news feeds around for at least a decade or more. I am not going to spend the time finding all the prior art, but I am sure there are patent lawyers doing that already for various social networks who are now potential subjects of patent litigation from Facebook.

Don't take this post as a slam on Facebook. They have done an incredible job of executing on an entirely obvious idea. I was chatting this past week with a tech journalist who was in college when Facebook launched. She was not at Harvard but at another ivy league school. She told me that there were "facebooks" launching all over the ivy league that year. Facebook out executed everyone and took the market. That's how it is done. But they did not come up with the idea that "we should take a facebook and put it online". They simply did it better.

Same with social news feeds. They are the dominant provider of social news feeds in the world. Because they out executed everyone else. But not because they invented the idea. Giving them a patent on this idea is lunacy. But the whole idea of software patents is lunacy. We need to eliminate software patents and we need to do it now.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. charlessmith

    ridiculous. you could argue that small-town switchboard operators used to “dynamically provide a news feed about a user of a social network.” ugh.

    1. Tereza

      My gossipy neighbor “dynamically provides a newsfeed about a user of a social network”.

  2. im2b_dl

    I hope this gets enough attention that someone who oversees the process of approval says…”hmm, maybe we are getting off track for what the purpose was”

  3. reece

    “Shoot, I’ll patent “friendship”.”+1000

    1. fredwilson

      the comment is actually a bit longer than thathere’s the whole thing…

    2. johnmccarthy

      I have dibs on photosynthesis.

      1. Mark Essel

        Hahaha, dibs is an apt analogy 🙂

      2. ShanaC

        I have dibs on my X chromsome (according to facebook I could get like $30k)

    3. Aviah Laor

      too late. Actually “relationship” in general is already patented (before facebook)…

      1. fredwilson


        1. Aviah Laor

          Do you want me to check if it’s patented too :D? (i think it’s part of “relationship” though, so probably yes)

      2. loupaglia

        Good find Aviah. I wonder, did Twitter patent “follow”?

  4. reece

    Also, I was at Brown the year Facebook launched.I don’t remember there being “facebooks” launching everywhere, but was a great way to figure out who were the cute girls in my classes (amazingly, FB used to be linked to your class schedule).Perhaps they deserve a patent on “social stalking software.”

    1. ShanaC

      I remember that. I also remember when the U of C had as a parody for Scavhunt. If you can so obviously parody in one weekend, I doubt they deserve the patent….

  5. Bernardo Rodriguez

    absolutely absurd. I don’t see Facebook using it against the market (how surreal would be to see Facebook suing Twitter!). My feeling is that is a defensive move. I trust Facebook more than the US Patents System, so it is now on better hands.

    1. fredwilson

      i am not worried about them suing twitter over this. it doesn’t appear thattwitter infringes on this patent anyway.i am just worried about the whole software patent nonsense

      1. Bernardo Rodriguez

        I agree. Do you know of any effort/group that is trying to change/eliminate the software patent system ? who are the big players that like the status quo ?

        1. ShanaC

          Change over elimiate, it isn’t worth to get rid of all patents including in software, something truly novel does deserve the patent (I’m surprised that the guys involved in the NoSQL movement didn’t pursue…)

          1. Mark Essel

            Non-relational databases have been around a while Shana. I’ve built plenty of my own unique to each problem.We turned the protein database into a streamlined structure searching machine back in 2000 at my job – I pushed hard for that work. -almost got myself fired. Unfortunately the business we did the work for SBI ran out of VC cash and went under.

          2. ShanaC

            Not the non-relational part, the distribution part so that the databases arenot shown as updated from the users end always….that is sort ofinteresting.

      2. ShanaC

        That’s good news…first thing I thought about when I read this…

    2. David Semeria

      Good point. Rather ironically the best way of protecting yourself against patent liability is to…get a patent.

  6. Prokofy

    It doesn’t bother me that Facebook have sought this patent. Let them. It’s a free country. Let a litigator prove that they have no case. It’s an independent judicial system.The idea that you can’t patent software seems patently extreme and illogical to me. On the one hand, you want to claim special status for the “engineers” (I have to laugh every time I hear this term, as these are people who never get their hands dirty or cut on actual machines.) You want to claim something nearly magical and transformative about the Internet and its technologies. But in the next breath you want to declare that it is like air or water that no one should own or patent. *No* software patents, Fred? If you really believe that, tell every single company you are investing in — Twitter, Disqus, all of them — to stop their efforts to patent their software right now. In fact, why make proprietary software if it is like water, make it all opensource, mkay?It’s like Mitch Kapor — proclaiming opensource software gospel everywhere, demanding openness, but litigating when it comes to his own invention. There’s something patently hypocritical about all this.Patents ensure that inventions and commerce are not decoupled, and that’s a good thing, as engineers have to be paid. I wonder how much opensource software gospel we’d see preached if there were no big IT companies paying the salaries of all the OS people goofing around and if they had to earn a living on their inventions another way. That would put an end to it pretty quick.

    1. Mark Essel

      Agree that outlawing patents doesn’t make sense. But due diligence is failing when it comes to proving no derivative work.

      1. Aviah Laor

        These “system and methods” are all very old. No innovation. The fact that they are implemented on the web, or withing FB, doesn’t make them an innovation?

        1. Mark Essel

          I don’t think it does Aviah, but I’m not a patent provider. Somewhat thought the work was patentable.

      2. fredwilson someone needs to build a wiki there

        1. Mark Essel

          We could integrate some handy tools like Google’sPatent Search API.

        2. Richard Price

          I think this is a great idea!

    2. Jimboooo!

      Nice troll. Butthurt much?

    3. raycote

      @Prokofy”It’s a free country. Let a litigator prove that they have no case”Correct me if I have misunderstood you?You are arguing that we should not establishing a reusable generic framework or cut off point for identifying uniqueness worthy of patent protection.We should instead allow almost any thing to be patented and then qualify it’s patent worthiness through very expensive litigation of every obvious generic troll patent instance by instance. That seem a bit counterproductive to both innovation and competition.There must be some DEFINABLE LEVEL of procedural granularity and data component granularity below which recombinations are not reasonably patentable?For instance, if I were to copy your post at the whole paragraph, sentence or even phrase level, I might want to quote you. But surely, if I write something using many of the same words, sentence structures, paragraph structures, themes or concepts, I should not need to quote.In short, it may be a free country but the last I heard litigation is anything but free!

    4. fredwilson

      I don’t “tell our portfolio companies anything”. They don’t work for me. I work for them

  7. Disagree

    “the whole idea of software patents is lunacy. We need to eliminate software patents and we need to do it now.”I really like your blog, the companies you invest in, etc., but that quote is absolute lunacy. What we need is balance, and unfortunately your perspective is flawed. Of course you don’t want software patents to exist, you have a motive to ensure the companies you invest in don’t get sued from competitors that have patents. To have no framework for software patents creates a potential environment where companies with the most capital dominate, which which is rubbish.

    1. No One

      There are no software parents in Europe (not yet, anyway) and it doesn’t seem to bother the European software industry. There were no software patents in the US before the early nineties, and it didn’t seem to stop the evolving industry, even though giants were _already_ there (IBM, HP).Extraordinary claims (“To have no framework for software patents creates a potential environment where companies with the most capital dominate”) require extraordinary proof. I believe I posted empirical evidence of the CONTRARY. What are you basing your claim on?

      1. Steven Kane

        european software industry? what european software industry?i think our system needs to be reformed. but all have to admit that the horribly fatally shockingly flawed US system has produced a software and tech industry that has dominated, no, crushed, all others

        1. sweller

          But they make good Pilsner. 😉

          1. Tereza

            To teda vite, ze jo.(that’s Czech for ‘you betcha’)

        2. kidmercury

          if all have to admit how almighty the US software and tech industry is, perhaps all should study WHY it is so almighty. it is not because of patents. its because of money and finance.

          1. Disagree

            To suggest that capital is unbiased is false. Furthermore, your blog states “the truth is that a tiny elite controls of major significance in our world.” If that’s your argument, what do you think will happen if there is no patent framework to protect the garage inventor?

          2. kidmercury

            thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. i hope you will click on all the links and third party videos, i assure you that information is far more important than anything you will find in this discussion.the patent framework benefits the tiny elite. patent laws are sold as benefiting innovation, but they do not; they do just the opposite. they hinder collaboration. in the digital economy, collaboration is the source of all innovation.

          3. Disagree

            Incorrect. Innovation happens regardless of Patents. One might even argue that patents spur innovation as it requires one to think of new possibilities. For example, the light bulb. Thomas Edison wasn’t the first. In fact, his patent was for an “Improvement In electric Lights.” Look, there have been literally hundreds of light bulb patents over the past 100 plus years, all improving and advancing innovation. For example: halogen, mercury, fluorescent, low voltage, rechargeable, waterproof, high-heat, high-pressure, LED, Flash blub, and on and on and on, and there will probably be plenty more light bulb patents.

          4. raycote

            I think lighting technologies are driven more by market opportunities that to avoid past patents.

          5. Steven Kane

            perhapsbut seemingly the industry – and innovation – haven’t been harmef

          6. kidmercury

            but WHOSE industry hasn’t been harmed? the almighty US tech industry? agreed, that has not been harmed. the rest of the world that wealth has been stolen from to allow the american finance industry to blossom to pay for these companies? i think they have been harmed. just a little bit.but the good news is that it’s all coming to an end. the US is going to lose a lot of undeserved, hubris-filled bragging rights, but the whole world (US included) will benefit as the existing system collapses and a new one, one built on liberty instead of theft, takes its place.

        3. fredwilson

          Very true steve and a great point. But we can make it even better by eliminating software patents or at a minimum providing a independent inventions defense

          1. Steven Kane

            respectfully disagree 😉

      2. David Semeria

        There are software patents in Europe.

      3. Andrew

        Europe only doesn’t have “business method” patents, they’ve always had software algorithm patents.In my mind this is pretty reasonable but a lot of people improperly conflate lack of business method patents with algorithm patents under the portmanteau of “software patents”.

        1. fredwilson

          Good distinction. At a minimum we need to massively tighten what kind of software can get a patent

    2. fredwilson

      Unfortunately its the other way around. The big companies and trolls control most of the patents. They put a strangle hold on innovation

      1. dailyleapfrog

        Not really, if you want to innovate, you will always work around the patent and make your way into market. That’s what I call innovation.

  8. jwaller

    Full disclosure, I haven’t read all of your other numerous posts about patents, so you might have covered this. Apologies if so… I’m curious as to what start ups, or large companies for that matter, are to do. CEOs have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize value by (almost) all legal means necessary. Patents are both defensive & offensive. Until laws are changed, doesn’t the company have an obligation to their shareholders to pursue patents aggressively? If a CEO makes a decision to to the “right thing” isn’t he or she putting the company at a disadvantage? FWIW, I’m actually not sold on the idea that software patents don’t have their place, but even taking your POV, isn’t my above argument still valid?

    1. Tereza

      I’m behind you, jwaller.There’s a very rich view from these posts on the policy perspective.BUT — <eyelashes batting=””> — what’s a little ole’ startup to DO??!!What’s our MVPA? (minimum viable patenting activity)

    2. fredwilson

      I believe that open sourcing your software is good for shareholder value. I believe open platforms with apis is good for shareholder value. I believe patenting obvious ideas and using your lawyers to squash competition is bad for shareholder value

      1. jwaller

        I completely agree & believe in open platforms & open apis. I’m a fan of your, Jarvis’s, et al belief. But can’t you open up your platform & apis w/ out opening up *some* of your technology? I believe Google takes this approach.

        1. fredwilson

          Yes. There is always a desire to keep something proprietary

  9. Kevin

    Though I use it daily, I like FB less and less by the month it seems. Every change they make annoys me more. The patent doesn’t do anything to me personally, but is just another example to me of why I don’t like the way they’re run. I guess other companies might have tried to patent it too if they could have, but there is something about the way they do things that time and again burns me up a little.

  10. ShanaC

    Facebook I realize also risks ruining their relationship with the developer community who doesn’t hold the same ethos towards software as they do. Plus it will make it very hard to innovate off an idea if you can’t touch it for a while…I don’t want to see software turn into the next drug patent war (where you patent slight changes for the hell of it, thereby keeping entire groups of drugs from competitive pricing)

  11. eichorsmith

    thinking back to BBS’ they provided a list of actions that occurred since your last login. Isn’t that the same thing?

    1. fredwilson

      Might be. We should put up a wiki called Prior Software Art

  12. pruett

    considering all the features that Facebook continues to rip off of other tech companies, you would think that filing a patent would not enter their mind. i’m really shocked and annoyed at this move quite honestly. it’s this sort of hypocrisy and paranoia that stunts growth collectively.

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah the company that took like a half dozen ideas from twitter has the audacity to file a patent on an entirely obvious idea

  13. Fernando Gutierrez

    One big problem with this kind of patenting activity is that it increases the risk of developing anything. It’s not only a matter of money, it’s a matter of not knowing. With so much patents there will be a moment in which it’ll be almost impossible to know if you are infringing someone else’s patent. And as a result of that you won’t be able to budget or make precise business models.

    1. fredwilson

      My partner brad wrote a good post about exactly that and it is currently the top post at

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        Thanks, just read it and found it great. I didn’t know he also blogged, but I see that patents are a sensitive issue for all USV!

        1. fredwilson

          We have a number of public policy initiatives.

  14. Peter Cranstone

    Fred,I understand your frustration with patent – but they do serve a valuable purpose. I’ve done patents in every company I ever started. Even the very latest company has a patent pending on our contextual browser menus. The reason I did them is “defensive”. IBM could crush almost everyone tomorrow – they have a patent on the flashing cursor. Imagine who is infringing on that… Everyone.So I file for patents like everyone else does – so that we can cross license if required. FB is so darn big it’s now worth going after. It doesn’t matter if they’ve out executed everyone, it’s business now and that means it’s worth protecting.Think about patents in the same light as you do a term sheet – Risk Mitigation. You invest LP’s money. They want protection against their downside – term sheets are a way to do that and patents are similar in nature. A way to protect your downside. Microsoft and RIM learned the hard way.

    1. fredwilson

      They feel like nuclear bombs to me. Mutually assured destruction is mad

      1. Peter Cranstone

        Yep – but it’s nice to have a response.

  15. gorbachev

    It would be nice if the very same influential people who are behind the startup visa initiative put their weight behind eliminating software patents.But then again I believe most of them are heavily invested in software patents.

    1. jpball

      As it turns out, they are indeed the very same people at the grassroots level. People like Fred, his partner Brad Burnham, Brad Feld of Foundry Group, and many more VCs and software entrepreneurs are speaking out; pointing out the need to evolve current thinking, and reaching out to legislatures who can effect the necessary change.

    2. fredwilson

      Not true at all. Brad feld is leading the charge on both issues. Read his blog at

  16. Jason

    absurd? yes. does that mean we shouldn’t be building defensible ip? no.there needs to be something actionable to change the system, an exposed flaw, a contradicting legal precedent, enough lobbyists, something legal experts can work with, etc.otherwise I believe you’ll be singing the same tune 10 years from now. and if you do have to say it again then, well at least you’ll have something to write about.then again, if the system gets changed, I’m sure you’ll be happy to write about that too 🙂

  17. Mark Essel

    If I can just patent bits the way DNA and genes have been patented I’ll be in good shape.It’s a silly patent.I thought Facebook won because they got gobs of money and bright hackers early. The real miracle is how Mark held onto 27% ownership after all that cash pumped in.

    1. ShanaC

      You realize how controversial that position of DNA patenting is. And technically it is the purification of DNA outside of the body- and it has to be a gene that does something.It totally isn’t clear that one can and should patent a gene…..

      1. Mark Essel

        Yeah I’m aware the friction around DNA/gene patents, I have a bad sense of humor :(Understanding how we work (the science) shouldn’t be patentable but somehow it is. I think it’s related to the entire pharmaceutical industry which is way beyond my comprehension (big front end investment $$ followed by overcharging for reagents to create certain meds).Besides genes don’t do much in isolation. It’s the gene regulatory network that makes us tick. I read enough about about genes (and did some simple work on stability for Lambda CRO in drosophilia/fruit flies) to understand that their information content appears to be growing over time. That’s compelling for a storage source. Buy a drive, and it grows with your media library ;).

    2. kidmercury

      dude has 27 percent?!?!?!? are you serious????? that truly is a miracle. i’m not sure how everyone who helped build facebook is cool with that.

      1. Mark Essel

        I couldn’t find the recent article but I read it slack jawed.How does a founder hold on to 27% with 2 cofounders and all that external money.SICK.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          In fact, according to facebook, there are four cofounders:!/…I’ve read that Eduardo Saverin was kicked out and only recently appeared again as a cofounder, so I guess he’s been given a small percentage to avoid legal risk. Chris Huges and Dustin Moskovitz joined after Zuckerberg and Saverin, and always had much smaller percentages.Regarding the external money, it’s a lot, but compared with the valuations at which they’ve raised capital it’s not so much.

          1. fredwilson

            They raised at attractive valuations all along the way. That’s how you keep 27pcnt

          2. Mark Essel

            You almost make it sound easy.. So much effort/execution captured in so few words.

          3. Mark Essel

            Appreciate the information framing Fernando!

  18. Aviah Laor

    It’s absurd. Maybe the GNU and open source licenses should amended the following article: “no technology, service, product, software or any derivative may be patented”You want to play the patent game? very well. Just please don’t use our free, good intentions for open software. No php,python, ruby, c++, apache, mysql, postgre,linux etc for you.I would encourage W3 to go the same route with HTML5.

    1. fredwilson


  19. David

    The bigger issue is this: The patent system was intended to stimulate innovation by protecting the works created thus ensuring organizations felt ‘protected’ in investing the necessary R&D to innovate, but the system is now failing. What was once intended to stimulate innovation is now being abused to stifle competition. Its sad and MUST change.Dave IngramCEO,

    1. Colm Brophy

      The system has been taken over by large corporate entities who know how to use it to their advantage and can afford to use it.Have you seen how expensive it is to maintain a patent across multiple territories? It is massively weighted towards large corporations now – partially cause of the way lawyers have engineered it to work that way over time as those large companies will pay the bills more than your garage engineer. Of course it’s also the main way of filtering out your kooks who have invented “the next big thing”.

      1. ShanaC

        It is also that smaller groups innovate. There is less command and control involved in innovating.

  20. Aviah Laor

    For an insightful lesson, I recommend to take a few searches on google patent search. Try “social” “advertising” “network” etc.Everything that moves on the web is either patented or in an application. Innovation, yeah.BTW, it’s too much respect to call these abstracts “system” “methods” and “embodiment” blah-blah a software. These are not software patents, just lame patents.

  21. Aviah Laor

    from the FB patent main claim: “the method comprising: monitoring a plurality of activities in a social network environment; storing the plurality of activities in a database; generating a plurality of news items regarding one or more of the activities”They just patented the entire web. Finally we know who invented the Internet.

  22. James K.

    Fred, I agree that this patent is nonsense, but I think it’s a mistake to label all software patents as nonsense. There’s lots of really innovative work being done in gene decoding, geolocation, geology, and many many other areas have made real unique, and in my opinion, protectable ideas as intended by the Constitution, that happened to be implemented in software. They are genuinely innovative and non-obvious. This patent demeans the value of those patents by giving laypeople moral authority to make general statements like “all software patents are nonsense.” It’s a shame that Facebook does crap like this because it hurts those software patents that have merit.

    1. Anne T. Monopoly

      This patent is crap but I don’t know that I blame Facebook; a fair number of these things are filed as a defensive strategy. If they go on a tear litigating infringment claims I will change my mind.What the hell was the examiner thinking?

      1. fredwilson

        I don’t blame them either. I tried to say that in the post and thought I did

        1. Anne T. Monopoly

          yeah, you did say that, Fred … I was agreeing and extending, not saying that you DID blame Facebook … sorry for any want of clarity in my comment … I still think the jury is out, though; let’s see how they behave with respect to the patent going fwd …

    2. Steve

      So patents on gene decoding are ok? I’d say that’s even worse than this… you shouldn’t deny the world potential ways to cure diseases etc. There’s a lot of other ways to make a profit.

      1. raycote

        Reasonable short duration patents on methods for gene decoding I can kind of see. But patents on life form gene sequences, now that is straight up evil empire stuff! You might as well grant someone a patent on Newton’s Laws.

    3. fredwilson

      My partner brad burnham has suggested that an independent inventions defense is the answer. Google brad burnham independent invention and I’ll think you’ll find his post

  23. Rob K

    Fred- I know you will disagree with this, but I don’t see the connection between this silly patent and the elimination of software patents. Patent examiners miss prior art all the time and patents are challenged. This doesn’t mean we should eliminate the patent system. Why should novel hardware be patentable but novel algorithms not be?

    1. Mark Essel

      Agree Rob. The patent process just needs a smarter search engine.

      1. ShanaC

        That may be patentable, the idea of a smarter search engine….

    2. Aviah Laor

      It’s a deeper issue than information gap. Email worked on fibers for decades. Is it enough prior art to rule out “email on wireless”?

      1. GraemeHein

        Vanilla email on wireless should be unpatentable.A more efficient method of using wireless networks to push email to a handheld device should be patentable. patents (we’ll sell petfood, on the internet, give us BILLONS) shouldn’t exist, but specific advancements in an algorithm should be. The general idea is almost always obvious, but there are real innovations in the implementation – shutting down general concept patents would help starve the trolls who win the race to the patent office instead of actually doing anything.

        1. Aviah Laor

          agreed. but the patent should detail a clear, unique, specific and non-obvious implementation, not mere “the engine unit will find the news results”.

          1. GraemeHein

            Software rules need to follow the patent rules strictly as material patents do.This area of patent law is very badly developed, thanks to the technical incompetency of all the parties involved directly – patent examiners, lawyers, and judges.Can’t hire competent examiners on federal wages, so we should abolish the Patent Office’s role in examining patents. Ideally privatize the whole thing, but at least get government employees out of evaluating patents, as they ignorantly approve patents which are then given great weight in other parts of the legal system before mistakes can be resolved.Having the Patent Office a direct Government agency leads to annual raids on its funds, impedes hiring competent people in fast moving industries, creates inevitable regulatory capture, and makes it vulnerable to meddlesome legislators (be they driven by good or venal motivations).

          2. Aviah Laor


    3. kidmercury

      Why should novel hardware be patentable but novel algorithms not be?one answer to this question is that the economics of algorithms is network economics, digital economics, freeconomics…..basically, the economics of what happens when supply becomes infinite. that is NOT the economic environment of hardware. an underlying principle of digital economics is that value is created more so through replication, sharing, viral stuff — not through physical production. patents in many ways stifle replication, sharing, etc.i’m not saying that’s a bulletproof argument, simply offering one that is used frequently. i think many investors like fred who have a portfolio rooted in “digital economics” will thus find software patents to be an annoying hindrance in every way. i tend to agree, though i know the issue is somewhat subjective.

    4. fredwilson

      Because very little, if anything, is novel in software. Software is more like music or a painting. It is art. It is media

      1. Rob K

        Still feels to me like you want to throw out the baby with the bathwater because the patent office has granted some stupid software patents. Some software is like art or media. Other software is more like math. If you can patent a molecule which you didn’t create but rather discovered, you should be able to patent a unique algorithm. I know we had filed patents on supply chain software algorithms that allowed us to optimize tens of thousands of SKUs in thousands of stores every week. If you don’t allow patents on this kind of thing, they get reverse engineered and then might makes right.

    5. Matt

      This is ridiculous, would you consider a patentable algorithm how to traverse an array? Maybe I should patent variables…

  24. andyswan

    No need to worry. I just patented patents. The first order of business is to sue anyone who has violated my patent by filing a patent without my express written permission.

    1. Aviah Laor

      I patented suing. But I sell licenses.

      1. Mark Essel

        I patented text, voice, communication, and finally cognitive processes.

        1. kidmercury

          i patented the big bang. i’m suing god. (will share proceeds if you and aviah license your patents to me)

          1. Mark Essel

            I’m hip to that licensing deal.Just a word of warning, god’s got a heckuva legal staff.

          2. Jim Croft

            No He doesn’t… they are all in ‘the other place’…

    2. Dave Pinsen

      OT, but for those who haven’t seen it yet, Andy’s Swantastic is good complement to Fred’s MBA Mondays and offers some interesting resources for entrepreneurs.

      1. Mark Essel

        I just dig the name (and the posts aren’t half bad).

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Maybe next, Andy will start a consulting company and offer to “Swanify” entrepreneurs’ start-ups.BTW, Mark, you won 3rd prize in the comment contest over at my blog. Be sure to send me your address info so I can send you your exciting prize.

          1. Mark Essel

            Oh crap I won something. I better add that to my taxes for next year… :)I’ll email you it, one sec.I haven’t been to in a few days, are you still tweeting posts?

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Yeah, but I didn’t post much this week. Tied up with some issues relating to the marketing campaign for the sites, and otherwise somewhat sapped of motivation to blog. Will aim to post something today though.

          3. Mark Essel

            Whenever your muse strikes you Dave. Never feel forced into posting.I’ve gotten in the habit of daily posting, and I let my mind wander all over, or review a topic that I want to know more about or learn. But I never feel like I have to post, now it just happens.

      2. fredwilson

        Andy rocks

    3. Mark Essel


    4. fredwilson

      Another win for the lawyers. Another loss for the entrepreneur

  25. Colm Brophy

    Something I haven’t seen anyone mention in these comments so far is what a massive PR failure this is for facebook. Of course facebook is no stranger to PR failures and will happily go against its community if it feels it’s in the long term benefit of everyone (I’m pretty sure the news feed was the first big example of the users raging against Facebook).But this is a failure to a different audience: The audience that they want to do business with and integrate their services; the audience they want to come and develop on their platform. It seems madness to create such an untenable patent which is going to annoy such an important audience for them.

  26. Lance Puig

    But the whole idea of software patents is lunacy. We need to eliminate software patents and we need to do it now. — I would like to agree but I need to think about this some more.

  27. Mike McGrath

    Once the Supreme Court releases their Bilski decision in a few months it will be worthless anyway. Prediction: Business method patents will be gone!

    1. fredwilson

      Hopefully software will follow shortly after that

  28. John MacIntyre

    I disagree about eliminating software patents entirely. After all, if you create some new encryption algorithm, shouldn’t you be able to patent that? … but yeah, these examples are ridiculous.

    1. fredwilson

      There are some narrow cases, and yours is one, that make some sense. I am sure software could be defined in a way that protects things that are truly novel and non-obvious

  29. Simon Monger

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned or not (lots of comments here and I’m pressed for time right now), but Facebook is likely buying up patents to protect itself moreso than to exact fees from others. A company that large is a target for smaller players that may come up with similar generic software patents and then turn around and fight them in court just to get a quick buyout.And on a side note: Maybe the USPTO needs someone like Fred to sit in and shoot all of these ideas down as unoriginal. And I agree that software patents are in danger of stifling innovation.

    1. fredwilson

      I am sure that is part of what is going on and that is why I took the time to say the post was not a slam on facebook.

  30. sweller

    What the start-up community needs is a ‘patent defense league’ — a financial insurance pool that multiple VCs contribute to that can defend against insane patents. Only then can you combine the dollars and experience necessary to peruse actions necessary for defense and reform.Face it. Patent reform will be painstakingly slow and the truth is you will only determine the viability of these types of patents by testing them in court. Whether it’s in defense of infringement litigation or to peruse the invalidation of a patent based on prior art, it’s going to take dollars.Facebook may have been granted this patent but I can already recall several cases where there is potential prior are here. One of which hails from Wildcat BBS days and “door” applications. So, it will only be through litigation where the merits of this particular patent will be proven.

    1. Wavelengths

      I like this idea of a “patent defense league,” but I wonder if it could look more like a forum for evaluation and arbitration to eliminate the frivolous and underhanded patent attacks before they every get to court.I disagree with your faith in the legal system as a test environment for establishing “the viability of these types of patents.”Much of what happens in a courtroom is choreographed and manipulated by people who have no fundamental understanding of the technology or the business environment. Do you presume that the lawyers and judges have any real understanding of the underpinnings of these patents?As the issues become increasingly complex, they become harder to litigate in any fair fashion. Can “justice” be served if the decision-makers can’t really comprehend the issues?

      1. sweller

        I do not presume that lawyers and judges have any real understanding of the underpinnings of these patents. In fact I have experienced first hand that lack of understanding and how that can play out in a patent lawsuit. Litigation is simply the most common litmus test for determining if a patent has true merit. Most companies simply do not have the resources necessary to peruse the re-review and rejection of an already-issued patent (although the EFF has had some success here).Although the legal system isn’t perfect it does provide the needed due-process. Many times, the outcome of a patent lawsuit sits entirely in how the defense is constructed. This is where a “patent defense league” could provide fledgling start-ups with the experience they need in order to more successfully construct their defense.

  31. Chip Salzenberg

    Indeed. Open source projects are always under threat of patent attack – which is ironic given how much of the world’s infrastructure is open source now.Patents have damaged the creativity that engineers constantly indulge in, though they were designed to promote exactly that creativity. Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” is a highly recommended introduction to the reasons why software patents are so wrongheaded.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks. I’ll get it right now

  32. Mihai Badoiu

    You need to read more than the title to get what the patent is about. Generally, you can patent technical methods behind the UI, even tho there are exceptions. My guess is that the patent is about how to efficiently store, select and display social news dynamically. One problem is that what is patented may be rather a straightforward exercise and a freshman student can design such a system for his problem set.Since most patents really patent the method, it’s pretty simple to circumvent them, by having a slightly different design. It’s also hard for a company to sue another based on such a patent, since it’s hard to detect what’s underneath the UI.I think having CS patents is a good thing. First, some of them are actually useful, like SIFT or RSA. Sometimes there’s insight in the algorithm, and you want to encourage sharing of ideas.

  33. Anonymous

    This is so ridiculous. I see both sides of this argument, but I’m convinced our patent laws do more harm than good.I worked at a company that developed technology that purposely tired to avoid infringing on a known patent to the extent of creating a sub-optimal product. The product became successful and it felt good that we took the ethical road. Sure enough, soon as we got big enough the owner of the patent, a large internet company, sent their patent trolls after us. We had to invest in defending ourselves because we believe our technology didn’t infringe. The countless meetings and interactions with the patent lawyers, many of which were mindless contractors from the accusers were excruciating. I soon realized the patent holder didn’t really care if we infringed, at worst case for them, they knew they’d slow an upstart competitor. They were right. I estimated that it cost upwards of 20% of our time dealing with this garbage, time I could have used to make a better product.In the end, the consumers and entrepreneurs lose. The patent layers win. Something needs to change.

    1. fredwilson

      What a great comment. It really sums up the issue. Thanks

  34. marko

    amen. just filing a patent now – just for defense. would much rather be focusing on ‘real’ product work.

  35. GraemeHein

    I interviewed at an incubator in Cambridge that had a startup called PeopleStreet back in 99. I didn’t get the concept, though they didn’t seem to really make an impact. There have been so many social network startups that the prior art is going to be immense, not to mention how this all derived from the status messages on instant messaging/presence apps. The IM space includes telecom vendor developed ones (Ericsson had one in 2000), ICQ, AIM, MSN… Just the patents and research files at IBM Labs and Microsoft Research should crush this ridiculousness.But then Amazon’s Once-Click was trivial, obvious, and had lots of prior art yet it has held up.The robustness of patents need to reflect the investment in creating the patentable material, the utility timescale, and reflect actual relevant industry expert opinion as to obviousness. Drugs should be getting longer, more robust patents, most software should be getting limited patents. Systemic inventions that have very long lead times to adoption should also get longer lifetimes – Hedy Lamarr’s wireless patents being an apt example.

  36. Mark McLaren

    Very hard to see how this will hold up.

  37. K H

    Fred, I am surprised you have never mentioned Grooveshark in your blog (just did a search). Just discovered it, but it is amazing! (not sure how its legal). You can even create a widget with a playlist for your blog.

    1. fredwilson

      I never warmed up to it compared to the music services I use every day

  38. J Nicholas Gross

    Your misconception is that “software” is patented – it is NOT; what IS patented is a new MACHINE that behaves in a particular way because it was programmed. No different than a new toaster with new settings.

    1. Aviah Laor

      not so. To patent a toaster you have to build at least a prototype. If toasters were patented like these system&methods patents it would be something like:””a system and method to toast a bread, where unit A holds the bread and unit B pops it up after the time set in unit C”. add some diagrams and your done. When somebody really succeed to build it, sue him.

  39. Norm Levy

    The title of your Article sums it up and says it the BEST!Norm

  40. NICCAI

    Patents. Unions. Ugg

    1. fredwilson

      Yup. I’m with you on both. I think they both served a purpose but less so these days

  41. Ovi_Jacob

    Great post – I am not sure the solution is to outlaw software patents – or any other type of patent. My solutions are often orieted toward people, rather than systems. To that end, here is a first step I have been thinking about:(Disclosure: my thoughts are based on 2 MBA classes focused on IP, a decent amount of startup IP dd in the past 2 years and extensive discussions with 2 legal experts in the area)The 2 most pressing issues here are: time and moneyWho works at the USPTO? Who gave the go-ahead on this dubious Facebook patent? Real industry experts and legal mavens are working for…FACEBOOK, not the USPTO. Where is the incentive to get top people to solve the challenge of fair and non-frivolous intellectual property systems – I see none in the current structure. People who understand innovation and artistry are working in industry – either putting it on the line at a startup or getting paid by a bigger company (sidebar: which category does FB now fall into?). Examiners and their bosses are oveloaded with applications with ill incentives and experience to make meaningful or thoughtful decisions.Why not turn the USPTO into an innovation engine. Direct financial incentives based on the economic value created by technology behind the patents that each individual examiner and group approve. Co-opt a stoggy government office into the process. Get a few real industry experts to oversee each industry (these arein place now, as paid goivernment officials – leaders of industry who care about IP, would no doubt serve a small term free of charge)This does not solve the software issue directly (or the gentics issues, which is an area I believe to be substantially more frivolous). It gets top quality people in the room and involves them in the conversation of how to fix the system.That’s 2 changes: incentivize the government workers properly, recruit industry expert panels to oversee the processes.My thoughts

    1. Dave Pinsen

      The Swiss had Einstein working for their patent office once. Maybe we need to take another look at the hiring process for the USPTO (and other federal agencies). To what extent are they hiring based on merit and to what extent are they hiring based on other criteria? It’s been several years since I’ve had any personal interaction with the USPTO, but I was underwhelmed with my interlocutors there last time I did.

    1. fredwilson

      Yes they do. And I’d say two things about thisFirst, they don’t work for us, we work for themSecond, its hard to argue against filing patents when your competitors are going to get ones like facebook just didIts like nuclear war. We have to stop the madness

  42. kidmercury

    damn boss can you believe the haters in this thread? i thought for sure this would be a lovefest in the comments where everyone agrees with you, aside from some clueless and uneducated folks who disagree (no offense prokofy). but i guess not, there are a diverse group of haters, many of whom are credible. but still, i think this is like your investment thesis, you know you are right, it is obvious to anyone paying attention, if the youngsters can’t handle the truth that sets them free, nothing you can do. you delivered the message, that’s all you can do.don’t let the haters get you down boss!

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t see it as hate. I see it as a discussion and debate

  43. dailyleapfrog

    Did you know Amazon has patented one click shopping?You think software patents make no sense, why would Amazon patent this and why would IBM file 1000s of patents each year? These are protection they seek for their inventions and when they are the first to invent it is theirs.You need to look closely at the patent granted to Facebook, if a small newsfeed system earlier existed then USPTO would not grant a patent for anything already available. It may be different in subtle ways and other inner working details come into picture when it is patented.Get your facts right before crying about the patents and patenting system.

    1. fredwilson

      No tears. Just fears

      1. dailyleapfrog

        You are a VC and you can take the “fears” to the concerned people, if you meet them.

  44. howard

    Going back to the facts of the patent, everyone knows that this was not their invention. I was a partner in a service that had a news feed and xmpp alerts of new posts or comments in August of 2003:

  45. Reykjavik

    My wife was working with some big insurance companies when the guy who patented voicemail was making his rounds of the major telecos. Don’t need to tell you all that he extracted $100+ million in total from a bunch of companies.This arms race has to stop, but be restructured in a manner that still rewards innovation in some respect.

  46. Guest

    I don’t think it’s a big deal based on a limiting clause in the method of the patent:

  47. jacopogio

    “We need to eliminate software patents and we need to do it now.” +1

  48. jacopogio

    starting a campaign: “We need to eliminate software patents and we need to do it now.” +1 =>

  49. Peter Cranstone

    Hi Fred,You might want to take a spin through this patent –…Abstract – An information service provides search and notifications to inform when certain people (e.g., friends, family, business contacts, etc.) are nearby so as to facilitate communications with those people.Then take a look at Foursquare and see how it affects them. If it does, and I believe a case could be made that it does – it’s time for Foursquare to file for it’s own patent.It’s a MAD world out – make sure you have some bombs of your own.

  50. Guest

    I forget the name of it but there was a facebook-type thing as early as 1999-2000 where ivy students and alumni could network with each other. “Facebook out executed everyone and took the market.” Absolutely. And they wouldn’t have been able to if any one of their predecessors patented the many ideas they ended up executing better.Gruber’s writeup on the Apple-HTC patent fiasco is also very good:

  51. lenz

    i see a lot of those very typical narrow minded american answers. if you guys would look just a bit across your borders you would actually notice that there are way more countries that decided to not go down the idiotic track of software patents. many of them see pressure the US trying to force them to implement them, however, in exchange for trade agreements and the likes.funny enough those economies work quite well (see eg EU, AU, NZ) in the current state and have substantial software development companies.from outside the US it looks like there is a _lot_ of time and effort wasted on stuff that does in no way contribute to the success of a product. by the time someone else copied you you are off to the next thing, it is not like we are still running DOS on our cloud servers …

  52. Mark Essel

    “Ok, back to violating more patents (past and future). Final stretch…” keep at it Charlie!

  53. fredwilson