Yahoo vs. Facebook: Let patent insanity reign

Yahoo is claiming that Facebook has violated 10 of its software patents. Can you say 'desperate move by dying Web 1.0 giant'?

You know how you just clicked on a link on InfoWorld.com to get to this blog post? That was my idea. Skipping past the actual post to weigh in on some comment flame war? Also my idea. Scratching your chin while coming up with a devastating comeback to those inane comments? I invented that too.

Sadly, I didn't have the forethought to file a business process patent on these things, or I'd be rolling in it. But I'm sure somebody out there has.

And maybe that somebody is Yahoo.

[ Last month Cringely issued a call to regulate Facebook -- before it's too late. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Yahoo, whose attempts at entering the social media-driven world of Web 2.0 have demonstrated a bumbling incompetence that would make even AOL blush, is engaging in the strategy of last resort -- trying to sue its way into the game using its patent portfolio.

Yahoo is claiming that Facebook has violated 10 of its patents, including those issued for "online playback system with community bias" (translation: playing music based on what your friends listen to); "world modeling using a relationship network with communication channels to entities" (sending messages to friends); and "Control for enabling a user to preview display of selected content based on another user's authorization level" (picking whom to share content with). A nod of the Cringely fedora goes to PaidContent for those plain-English translations.

The response from the peanut gallery to this suit has not been kind.

Andy Baio launched a blistering attack on Yahoo's patent trollery at Wired.com. Baio, whose startup Upcoming.com was acquired by Yahoo in 2005, says he was urged by Yahoo executives to write down any quasi original ideas he may have developed while building Upcoming so that Yahoo could try to patent them. Four of his ideas were granted patents by the USPTO. Writes Baio:

The scary part is that even the most innocuous patent can be used to crush another's creativity. One of the patents I co-invented is so abstract, it could not only cover Facebook's News Feed, but virtually any activity feed. It puts into very sharp focus the trouble with software patents: Purposefully vague wording invites broad interpretation.

In their complaint, Yahoo alleges that Facebook's News Feed violates "Dynamic page generator," a patent filed in 1997 by their former CTO related to the launch of My Yahoo, one of the first personalized websites. Every web application, from Twitter to Pinterest, could be said to violate this patent. This is chaos.

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