Well, well, who would’ve thought! Facebook is being sued for the very action that made it into the most widely used social networking website in history – ‘Like’. BBC has reported that Facebook is being sued by a patent-holding company acting on behalf of a deceased Dutch Programmer called Joannes Jozef Everadus van Der Meer.
Fish and Richardson filed a claim on behalf of Rembrandt Social Media in a federal court in Virginia saying that Facebook’s success was based, in part, on using two of van Der Meer’s patents sans permission. Facebook in turn has made no comments on either the lawsuit or the claims.
“We believe Rembrandt's patents represent an important foundation of social media as we know it, and we expect a judge and jury to reach the same conclusion based on the evidence,” said attorney Tom Melsheimer, counsel for Rembrandt and managing principal of Fish and Richardson's Dallas office.
Thumbs down to 'Like'?
Rembrandt is now in possession of patents for technology that van Der Meer was granted in 1998 while he was building a fledgling social network called ‘Surfbook’. Facebook, with a fishily similar sounding name appeared only five years later. Van Der Meer had founded a company called Aduna and started putting the ideas in his two patents, numbers 6,289,362 and 6,415,316 to use. During that time he registered 'www.surfbook.com' but it is not very clear about what he did with this. Van Der Meer was apparently working on the site before he passed away in 2004.
Facebook that celebrated its ninth birthday recently, first popped on to the scene in 2003 but “it bears a remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation, to the personal web page diary that Van Der Meer had invented years earlier,” reads the complaint.
Facebook also allows users to share “specific diary entries with a selected group of people, such as the user's friends, through the use of user-settable privacy levels.” Also, Facebook works on advertising revenue, a business model that's specifically described in the '316 patent.
Facebook also allows third party content to be hosted on to its website via others using the ‘share’ or ‘like’ button, an invention the complaint says van Der Meer proposed first. It has also been claimed that Facebook was aware of the Dutch programmer’s patents as one of them is cited in a Facebook patent issued in 2012.
“He really created the concept of a diary on the Internet,” Melsheimer , told Ars Technica. “To describe it in a general way, he had the notion of being able to publish and share information with a select group of people and the ability to link in other types of information. It was the beginnings of what we would say is social networking. (sic)”
Another company accused of infringing one of the patents is a small 47-employee company named Add This.
Melsheimer claims that the company is not a patent troll but is committed to the idea of finding inventors that have a compelling story to tell, and a patent that is important or core to some widely used technology. He expects van Der Meer’s widow and some former colleagues to testify at the trial about the importance of the invention.
So will this spell the end of the ‘Like’ button on Facebook? We'll have to wait and watch the trial.