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Meet The 10 Patents Yahoo Is Using To Sue Facebook

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Yes, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) went there today — claiming in a lawsuit that it, not Facebook, is the real king of social networks. The company points to ten patents that it says cover features like messages, advertising and privacy settings.

We’ve provided here abstracts of those patents for your reading pleasure.

You can also click through to see the whole patent yourself or else check out our attempt at a plain English translation of the patent lawyers’ gobbledy-gook. Based on our reading, Yahoo may now own all of Silicon Valley or else the US patent system is even more dysfunctional than we imagined.

And now, without further ado, meet Yahoo’s would-be Facebook killers:

US Patent 7454509 Online playback system with community bias (Filed 2001, Issued 2008)

A method for entertaining individuals according to a community having similar tastes. Information derived from user accounts form the basis of a community and collateral preferences allow other subscribing individuals to enjoy the benefit of wider-ranging tastes according to the preferences expressed by the other members of the community. Additionally, assuming that individuals sharing one preference in common may be likely to share others, the present method allows those who choose to listen to the “fan station” the ability to enjoy similar music or other data streams according to preferences expressed by the fan community as a whole.

In plain English: A music station based on what you and your friends listen to

US Patent 7599935 Control for enabling a user to preview display of selected content based on another user’s authorization level (Filed 2005, Issued 2009)

Enabling a first user to preview content as it would be seen by a second user, if the second user had a selected user relationship with the first user. The selected user relationship may include a relationship degree, a relationship category, a relationship rating, and/or other form of relationship. In one embodiment, a user interface enables the first user to assign user relationships to portions of content and to other users. The first user selects a user relationship, which is used to access those portions of content that are associated with the first user and assigned the selected user relationship. The corresponding portions of content are used to generate a preview display for the first user, illustrating the portions of content that would be accessible to other users assigned the same user relationship or assigned a closer user relationship. Preview may be generated by a server or a local client.

In plain English: Share an item only with selected friends

US Patent 5983227 Dynamic Page Generator (Filed 1997, Issued 1999)

An custom page server is provided with user preferences organized into templates stored in compact data structures and the live data used to fill the templates stored local to the page server which is handing user requests for custom pages. One process is executed on the page server for every request. The process is provided a user template for the user making the request, where the user template is either generated from user preferences or retrieved from a cache of recently used user templates. Each user process is provided access to a large region of shared memory which contains all of the live data needed to fill any user template. Typically, the pages served are news pages, giving the user a custom selection of stock quotes, news headlines, sports scores, weather, and the like. With the live data stored in a local, shared memory, any custom page can be built within the page server, eliminating the need to make requests from other servers for portions of the live data.

In plain English: a customized homepage

US Patent 7747648 World modeling using a relationship network with communication channels to entities (Filed 2005, Issued 2010)

Systems and methods for information retrieval and communication employ a world model. The world model is made up of interrelated entity models, each of which corresponds to an entity in the real world, such as a person, place, business, other tangible thing, community, event, or thought. Each entity model provides a communication channel via which a user can contact a real-world person responsible for that entity model. Entity models also provide feedback information, enabling users to easily share their experiences and opinions of the corresponding real-world entity.

In plain English: messaging your friends

US Patent 7406501 System and method for instant messaging using an e-mail protocol (Filed 2003, Issued 2008)

Systems and methods allowing an instant messaging user to exchange messages with an e-mail user. To the instant messaging user, the experience is a seamless exchange of instant messages; to the e-mail user, the experience is a seamless exchange of e-mail messages. Conversion of an instant message to an e-mail message includes insertion of a token into the e-mail message, and conversion of an e-mail message to an instant message includes validating a token extracted from the e-mail message.

In plain English: sending an instant message

US Patent 6907566 US Patent 7100111 and US Patent 7373599 Method and system for optimum placement of advertisements on a webpage (Filed 1999, Issued 2005)

A method and system for placement of graphical objects on a page to optimize the occurrence of an event associated with such objects. The graphical objects might include, for instance, advertisements on a webpage, and the event would include a user clicking on that ad. The page includes positions for receipt of the object material. Data regarding the past performance of the objects is stored and updated as new data is received. A user requests a page from a server associated with system. The server uses the performance data to derive a prioritized arrangement of the objects on the page. The server performs a calculation regarding the likelihood that an event will occur for a given object, as displayed to a particular user. The objects are arranged according to this calculation and returned to the user on the requested page. The likelihood can also be multiplied by a weighting factor and the objects arranged according to this product

In plain English: placing an ad on a webpage based on what users have done before

US Patent 7668861 System and method to determine the validity of an interaction on a network (Filed 2007, Issued 2010)

A system and method are disclosed for classifying a user interaction on a network. A user interaction is identified on a network and user interaction data is collected relating to the user interaction on the network. The user interaction data includes an aggregate measure data and a unique feature data. The user interaction data is processed to generate a value score for the interaction. A classification of the user interaction is determined based on the value score.

In plain English: measuring how often two people communicate with each other online Using visitor data to screen for spam or fake users (note I’ve amended this definition per Sujal’s comment below)

US Patent 7269590 Method and system for customizing views of information associated with a social network user (Filed 2004, Issued 2007)

A method, apparatus, and system are directed towards managing a view of a social network user’s personal information based, in part, on user-defined criteria. The user-defined criteria may be applied towards a user’s relationship with each prospective viewer. The user-defined criteria may include degrees of separation between members of the social network, a relationship to the prospective viewer, as well as criteria based, in part, on activities, such as dating, employment, hobbies, and the like. The user-defined criteria may also be based on a group membership, a strength of a relationship, and the like. Such user-defined relationship criteria may then be mapped against various categories of information associated with social network user to provide customized views of the social network user.

In plain English: deciding which friends photos to display when a user is logged in

29 Responses to “Meet The 10 Patents Yahoo Is Using To Sue Facebook”

  1. Mike Waldrup

    Personally if I felt like Facebook had infringed on my “IP” (used very loosely here), I would’nt have Facebook integrated in my website in like 15 billion different places.. It’s very clear that some board member thought this up in an effort to get a cash infusion (settlement) and pay themselves before the company goes under. 

  2. Lanny Heidbreder

    As has been said, the plain English translations are horrible. The ‘935 patent (the second one) has nothing to do with sharing anything with your friends, it’s about viewing your own profile as another user sees it, so you can see what they see and make sure your privacy settings are correct.

    Did you just pick random social-sounding sentences for these? They don’t seem to be based on the actual patents at all.

  3. Jeff Roberts

    Thanks for the comment, Matt. I’m not dismissive of all patents but do think the ones that Yahoo is asserting here seem overly abstract or obvious. The patent system can be a useful spur to innovation but, in the case of method and software patents, it is more like a tax.

    For anyone interested in the debate, I highly recommend Professor Mark Lemley’s new paper: “The Myth of the Solo Inventor”

    • Maybe I sounded snappy (my cat wasn’t feeling well) but we’re probably closer that it appears. Many companies encourage their employees to register patents and then use them offensively; at Google we only use the to defend ourselves and the common folk against the likes on Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Groupon, Oracle, Apple and other for-profit corporations.

      Ultimately, it has to do with ethics and the DNA that makes each company. Ex-softies tell me that they have patent forms in each desk, with lawyers ready to patent even the smallest thing. At Google, the opposite happens: when a search quality engineer finds a way to increase ad clicks (by tweaking the ranking of websites,) he does run to the lawyers, he runs to Amit Singhal to implement it.
      That’s why I love working at Google.

  4. As a patent holder, I wouldn’t be so quick to ridicule all patents by summarizing them in one dismissive sentence. One of my patents, for example, states that not all links to a site are given at the same time. That’s nothing to laugh at.

    • I agree with Matt – the patent system in the US is not completely broken. It is fair to say that the patent system is often not being used how it was intended to be used – to encourage innovation by protecting innovators. Instead, a portfolio of patents is now used as a negotiating tool between rival companies.
      I wonder what Yahoo’s goal in this patent suit is. Clearly Facebook is using Yahoo’s patents but is this a monetary play by Yahoo? Is Yahoo a sinking ship trying to generate revenue to increase their value before the scuttle the brand? Or is this merely an attempt to negotiate other issues that the two companies are having between each other. Perhaps this is a long play by Yahoo to start a little dance with Facebook in hope that Facebook will use its IPO money to purchase Yahoo. Since Yahoo is already in bed with Microsoft who is in turn slutting around with Facebook as well, it would make sense for Yahoo to give the bad boy Facebook a few slaps in hope that Facebook may see this as flirting. Maybe the bad boy likes to get slapped when in the throes.

      Then Google might actually get some search competition.

      • Any software developer who’s been around for a few years will agree that the patents outlined here are obvious solutions for problems that come up naturally when the medium evolves. It’s just a matter of who gets there first, and – more importantly – who works for a company with enough resources to apply for patents. None of these patents would’ve been ‘undiscovered’ had they not been ‘invented’ by the patent holder. I would even argue that half of them are solutions you can come up with and outline in less than a day. What exactly is protected then? And how does anyone except for lawyers and companies of questionable ethics benefit?

  5. The US really needs to either amend or abolish it’s patent system. Some of these ideas are clearly not inventions (and certainly not by Yahoo) and shouldn’t be patentable. Software patents destroy innovation. Patent algorithms by all means – but not general functionality like previewing profiles. 

  6. Who allocates such ridiculous patents? Mindless people sitting in US patent offices! ”
    Dynamic Page Generator” Every website uses this! 

    And Yahoo cannot make their own products. They have become useless now, and need to shutdown ASAP.

  7. US Patent 7599935 – “Control for enabling a user to preview display of selected content based on another user’s authorization level (Filed 2005, Issued 2009)” – isn’t this the “View As” feature in Facebook, that lets you preview your wall page as someone else?

  8. I have to say… the plain english versions seem a bit off. 
    Take this for example, “System and method for instant messaging using an e-mail protocol” is described as, “In plain English: messaging your friends” This seems to very clearly a method of an IM user and e-mail user interacting. (In FB’s case it’s a slight stretch, but: seamless integration between Facebook IM and Facebook messages.)

    Unfortunately I now have to wonder how accurate the others are that are less obvious to me. I don’t understand how you can get patents for most of these. They don’t detail the actual system/programming. It seems silly to me, it’s like someone patenting blog comments. 
    An unchecked patent system only stifles innovation and pads the pockets of the incapable/lazy who don’t actually create anything. 

    • Jeff Roberts

      Thanks, Tim.. As per my comment to Sujal, I wasn’t shooting for definitive summaries.. As for the patents themselves, note that most of them are for “methods” — these type of patents have attracted wide criticism for being overly broad or abstract and their validity has been addressed (inconclusively) by the Supreme Court

  9. The plain english summaries are downright wrong in many of these.

    For example, the next to last (7668861) isn’t about “measuring how often two people communicate” but a system for combating spam & fraud using statistics to model valid vs. invalid behavior. The examples the patent itself cites: 

    1. allowing an “anonymous trivia game” that can detect multiple entries by the same person.
    2. establishing unique visitor counts without cookies
    3 & 4. filtering out various ballot stuffing activities (fraudulent clicks or fake searches).

    similarly others in the list above have questionable “Plain english” summaries. I know you’re going for 1 sentence summaries, but these are bad.    

    • Jeff Roberts

      Thanks for the comment, sujal. With respect, I think most of these phrases do loosely track what’s written in the abstracts. The larger goal of the piece, though, is to let others easily see the patents and draw their own conclusions.

      I will concede that my summary of the 861 patent is wide of the mark — this patent does seem to relate more to validation or authentication than communication. I’ve amended the “plain english.”

      But the examples the 861 patent cites are just that — examples of a specific claimed idea. And I would argue that the “invention” — using statistics to create a model of behavior — sounds either too abstract to be patentable or else it is anticipated by other applications.

      Likewise, what Yahoo is claiming in the other patents seems broad enough to cover a wide variety of everyday online activities. Either Yahoo is an inventive genius or something is wrong with the patent system..

      • You won’t get any argument from me about the state of the patent system. Broken doesn’t begin to describe it. 

        I see what you’re trying to do. The main ones that stood out (and elicited my reaction) were the 861 patent and 935 (which I would summarize as Facebook’s “see what your friend Bob will see when they look at your timeline/page” feature).

        Thanks for listening and taking the comment seriously.



        Jeff with all that said,
        after they go after Facebook and make a case, of any kind. who else will they
        go after and not have to sue? Isn’t that the intention?


        I would think as many have
        said here. The prior art -new implementation will cause a lot of new light shed
        on old (20005) patents put in place by many, with similar nuances, processes
        and methodologies. There are many patents that have like and similar verbiage. The
        actual review of the actual sentences (words) using the same descriptions that
        end in different methods. That is a large part of the simple reason that the
        patent office needs to readdress it alignment of the use of the words in correlation
        to the user (patent applicant) and other similar companies using the same
        nature of business and practices.

        Further that the 2009
        granting of most of these patents (sitting on file since 2005), should have NOT
        been allowed based on the theory that many are using them for 5 or more years
        in a fast paced growing technology based world.  I would think being in telecom and software
        since 1996 ( a baby in many eyes) but I have seen these sentences and structure
        of words using in computing long before my time.  These sentence address KOBAL, and the use of
        it.  do you think anyone with old (now
        open ) license are going to bring this up?


        As for the person who
        commented on Kodak, they need to review the time line for its patents and who
        owned them, before commenting that this is like that.  The only comparison would be that the old technology
        has been added to.  Much like this patent.
        Added to..


        Educating the public (enduser), inventor, patent
        processor would save a lot of lawsuits.