Friendster now has lawyer-value: Patents

GigaOM writes that “Friendster just wrote in to tell us it has been granted a second social networking patent.”  Oh joy.

As I have written before, software patents don’t work.  Soon enough, we’ll see some lawyers talking to Friendster about going after MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, Tribe, Tagged, and others for violation of this silly patent.  The money is just too alluring.

Nobody Wins
Let’s say Friendster is right, and that the others are “infringing” (I am making no judgement, but let’s be hypothetical).  Nobody uses Friendster because their service has been miserable.  The service is slow and they just failed to build the right features.  Myspace, Facebook, and even Orkut, have all performed much better and have orders of magnitude more users.  If Friendster were to win a patent-infringement suit, these other companies will either have to pay Friendster hoards of cash (which will just be pocketed by lawyers), or stop offering these features, or both.  In any event – the users of social networking will be the losers – as the products they use will have fewer features and possibly even carry additional fees.  Keep in mind that none of this affected Friendster’s fall – they failed only due to their own poor execution.

Proof of Invalidity
Now, you could say that Friendster pioneered this space and that is why they got the patent.  But this is not true.  The notion of uploading pictures associated to a profile is too obvious and simple.  If you read the patent, you’ll see that covered under this patent would be the notion of uploading a picture to an access-controlled or moderated bulletin board (you have a group of registered users, and there is a “degree of separation” which is enforced via the access control).  Clearly, this was done years ago, and Friendster’s patent is invalid.  The USPO is just not capable of differentiating patent-worthy from bull. 

Sadly, there is a whole army of lawyers that will argue against my example, for they want their own piece of the pie, even if the only way to do it is to steal from those that actually created something useful.

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