Facebook was recently awarded a patent for streaming feed technology, that is “dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network.” Obviously enough, that sort of streaming feed is an integral part of social networks. The most obvious example is Twitter.
When I read about this patent, I immediately thought of the social networks that are associated with online gaming. For example, Xbox Live seems to provide dynamic data about the users. As another example, so does World of Warcraft-accomplishments are broadcast over Guild channels and, of course, characters are updated on the Armory site. I suspect that Facebook will be reluctant to throw down legally with Microsoft over this, but a clever lawyer could probably make a case over this.
One serious concern is that, as noted above, the news feed model is standard fare in social networks. Depending on how the Facebook folks wish to wield their patent, they could finally find that elusive revenue stream. In this case, lawsuits for patent violation or perhaps gathering up licensing fees.
It might be argued that Facebook should not be allowed such a patent because the news feed model is widespread and well established. This patent, it might be argued, would be damaging to the social networks and also impede progress rather than advance it. However, the fact that many people have “stolen” a patented process does not invalidate a patent. After all, they are intended to prevent just such theft. What does remain to be seen is how far the patent extends and what the folks are Facebook intend to do with their new legal tool.
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