Remember back in February when Facebook was awarded United States Patent 7669123 for Social Networking? Remember how little sense that made? Well, our friends at the United States Patents and Trademarks Office have set the bar for stupidity even higher. Friends, I give you USPTO example # 7,739,139 of not understanding what a patent is, or even what a patent is supposed to be for.
Let’s start with the basics. Again. In general, software patents are a very bad idea. They tend to say almost nothing and stifle rather than encourage innovation and development. They don’t generally describe anything unique, which is supposed to be a tenet of what patents are for. Amazon 7739139 is no exception, and in describing something so obvious 7739139 is just . . . well, judge for yourself:
To start, let me state again that I’m not an attorney. But I’ve dealt with Intellectual Property for a very long time, successfully defended against a trademark infringement claim over my software Uninstall for Windows, and advise companies on Intellectual Property. From a layperson’s perspective, I get this stuff.
This week the good folks at Amazon.com received US Patent 7,739,139. And I’m flabbergasted. As I told you when Facebook received their Patent for Social Networking, patents and the applications filed for them are supposed to describe something unique, and as software is mostly a representation of an idea rather than a thing it shouldn’t generally be patentable at all.
And Amazon’s new patent 7739139 describes . . . computer networks. Or Facebook. Or nothing at all.
Amazon’s rationale behind the filing for 7,739,139 is that an Amazon-owned company called PlanetAll was the “first” social network. It’s an interesting argument, and might even go some way to counteract the fact that the filing for 7,739,139 happened years after Facebook’s patent filings or even their existence.
But 7,739,139 doesn’t describe anything tangible. In describing social networking in their abstract for 7,739,139 Amazon has drawn a picture that could represent any computer network.
When Facebook got their social networking patent I was at least able to give them credit for attempting to describe something. 7,739,139 ‘s application doesn’t really even go that far.
I’ve said this before: I don’t know whether I’m more upset that the USPTO has misunderstood the very idea of what a patent is, or that Amazon, with 7,739,139 in hand, is likely to start suing any and everyone who runs a social network—which is one very large pool of people and companies.
If you’re at all concerned about this—and you should be—I implore you to contact the Office of Patents and Trademarks to get patent 7,739,139 invalidated. And if you’re MySpace, Twitter, or another social network and you don’t make big noise about this, well, enjoy the next fifteen years in court because somehow Amazon managed to get 7,739,139 pushed through USPTO in just two years.