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A newspaper company — yes, a newspaper company — has a patent on the idea of a “personal profile page” and now wants some payback from Facebook. In a lawsuit filed this week, Phoenix Media subsidiary Tele-Publishing, which provides dating services products to various newspaper companies, says that Facebook is infringing on a patent it owns which covers a method for setting up personal profile pages on the web. Tele-Publishing patented the system in 2001 — three years before Facebook’s inception — in an attempt to improve upon the personal ads that existed at the time online that it said “fail to utilize the added capabilities computers provide over newspapers.” Tele-Publishing envisioned a system where users could add “voice,” “image content,” and user-to-user “communication” to online profiles (See a rendering of one of the pages from the patent above).
Tele-Publishing says that Facebook has generated “unlawful gains and profits” from infringing upon its patent. Not clear why Tele-Publishing decided to only sue Facebook and not other social networks, since Facebook’s use of the profile page certainly isn’t original. A coincidence? Facebook is thriving, while Phoenix Media, which also owns Boston alternative weekly The Phoenix, is struggling. The Boston Globe notes that the company laid off two percent of its staff earlier this year. A Facebook spokesman tells the Globe that “the suit is without merit, and we will fight it vigorously.”