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IP, Patent

Facebook Strikes Back

According to this article from BusinessWeek, Facebook has retaliated against Phoenix Media Group with a patent infringement complaint of its own.  In October 2009, Telepublishing (a division of Phoenix) sued Facebook over this patent related to personalized webpages.  Yesterday, Facebook accused Phoenix of infringing patents 6,199,157 and 6,314,458.  Interestingly enough, neither patent has much to do with Facebook, and even less to do with one another, aside from the fact that both are now owned by Facebook.  According to the complaint, the case will be assigned to the same judge presiding over Telepublishing v Facebook and consolidated.  Below the jump, I discuss the different technologies and ownership histories of these patents that have since found their way into Facebook’s hands.

The ‘157 Patent

Facebook acquired the ‘157 Patent, according to patent office records, in April 2009 from Applied Materials, Inc., a company probably known more for its work in the semiconductor manufacturing space than for social networking.  The patent itself relates to a system generally known as a “configurator.”  The claims describe the invention as a computer-implemented method for configuring an item that can be created with “optional components.” Claim 1 is representative:

1. A computer-implemented method for configuring an item, wherein said item comprises two or more optional components, comprising the steps of:
(1) creating two or more options, wherein said two or more options correspond to said two or more optional components;
(2) associating attributes with each of said two or more options, wherein said attributes relate to characteristics of said two or more components;
(3) creating, from said two or more options, a hierarchical option tree;
(4) selecting one or more options from said option tree;
(5) implementing, responsive to said step (4), at least one attribute corresponding to said one or more selected options, and placing said at least one attribute into an instance creation file; and
(6) accessing and utilizing said instance creation file during the operation of said item.

Facebook has identified Phoenix website Band Guide feature as providing the claimed method.

The ‘458 Patent

Facebook acquired the ‘458 Patent in February of this year from HP, possibly from the HP Online Patent Sale. The patent relates generally to a data communication method that may be in common usage in browser-based applications. The claims specify a browser-based service where database change notices are transmitted when data in the database changes.  Claim 1 is representative:

1. A method for providing flexible communications of data modification of network resources between a plurality of browsers, the method comprising the steps of:
receiving a request for service from one of the plurality of browsers;
performing the request for service;
generating a database change notice if database data accessible to the plurality of browsers was modified while performing the request for service; and
transmitting the database change notice to a security server for retransmission to the plurality of browsers.

Among other things, Facebook accuses the Phoenix dating website because of its ‘Buddy List’ and ‘Video Chat Room’ features.

All patent data was obtained using Patent Calls’ Tools, available for free.

UPDATED 11/10/2010 to add:

Additional coverage from Paidcontent.org‘s Joe Mullin: Does Boston Alt-Weekly Really Want A Patent Battle With Facebook?

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