02.27.10

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Facebook and Intellectual Ventures Revisited

Posted in Bill Gates, Microsoft, Patents at 6:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Facebook

Summary: Facebook is becoming a software patents nuisance and its potential ties with Microsoft’s massive patent troll are worth elucidating

AS WE NOTED last year, Facebook’s Zuckerberg was personally meeting Microsoft's patent troll who runs a patent racketeering operation [1, 2] not far from Facebook. This is becoming interesting because increasingly we find that Facebook pursues software patents that it neither deserves nor needs.

News feeds have just been patented by Facebook [1, 2, 3]:

Facebook has been awarded a patent on displaying news feeds of users’ activities — creating an interwebs stir that basic social network functionality could soon fall prey to Facebook IP rights.

The US patent – awarded February 23 – pertains to “dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network.” For example: “Susie has added a photo to her gallery,” or “Johnny joined the Dolphin Sea Mammal Lovers Anonymous Group.”

News feeds go way back, as far as days before Facebook even existed. Making simple extensions to something does not make it patentable (and hardly even merits attribution), the debate about patentability of software aside.

IDG asks: “Does Facebook’s Newsfeed Patent Threaten Social Media?”

Venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson decried the patent by arguing that the U.S. Patent and Trade Office should stop awarding software rights altogether. “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,” Wilson wrote.

As we mentioned at the beginning, the relationship between Facebook and Microsoft’s Myhrvold is one that worries us. As we showed earlier this month, Facebook is also close to Microsoft at a personal level (Ozzie). The Atlantic has just posted this critique of Intellectual Ventures.

Setting aside Myhrvold’s colorful pedigree, his company’s approach has long drawn fire, with critics dubbing it “Intellectual Vultures.”

Amar Bhidé, author of The Venturesome Economy, is a high profile critic of Myhrvold’s vision. Invention, to him, is akin to writing a book: what if authors had to buy licensing rights for every idea they cited, instead of simply giving credit in the footnotes? Many of the best new products, he argues, are combinations of countless ideas, some patentable, some not.

A patent attorney writing under the pseudonym “Sawyer” laments:

“Mr. Myhrvold wants to create an entire economic category based on payments to entities that don’t build, produce, sell, etc, any products, or create anything of value (i.e., that don’t innovate, at least in any useful way that advances human progress), in exchange for not being sued on exclusionary patent rights.”

[...]

Myhrvold assures us the exact opposite will occur: that his system will create a vigorous market in IP rights and solve an epidemic of under-invention. Myhrvold confidently predicts that competition between investment funds to buy intellectual property from inventors, bundle it, and sell it to buyers who know how to exploit it will support increased output from innovators. But in his effort to encourage invention, he might be single-handedly facilitating the unholy genesis of a huge new class of parasitic middlemen.

That last sentence is excellent. With backing from Microsoft, Bill Gates, and Apple, Myhrvold is “single-handedly facilitating the unholy genesis of a huge new class of parasitic middlemen.”

“The genesis of this idea was when I was at Microsoft. We had a problem with patent liability. All these people were coming to sue us or demand payment. And Bill (Gates) asked me to think about if there was a solution.” —Nathan Myhrvold, WSJ: Transcript: Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures

“Intellectual property is the next software.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's patent troll

Nathan Myhrvold

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