You didn’t think Facebook was done with social networking and software patents, did you? The United States Office of Patents and Trademarks has just issued Patent # 7,827,208. It covers Facebook’s news feed feature. But unlike Patent 7,669,123 issued to Facebook about eight months ago, 7,827,208 at least describes something.

Before you get too excited, let me be clear. Again. Software Patents are almost always a mistake, because these patents tend to describe ideas rather than the actual implementations of ideas. By definition, that shouldn’t be patentable. Imagine if someone patented the word processor. That patent abstract would certainly includes wording to the effect of:

a system to order and display words and their groupings into paragraphs, tables, or similar constructs on a computer screen and manipulate them

Which is an idea. But not unique or descriptive until it goes further. And way too broad to reasonably be considered a specific thing. Or maybe even a thing at all. Facebook Patent 7,669,123 was that kind of patent. It said nothing.

On the other hand, patent 7,827,208 is more specific. In 7827208, applied for, interesting, on the same date that 7669123 was requested, Facebook is explaining the way that the news feed decides on its content. 7,827,208 therefore goes past merely talking about an idea and describes the way the idea is implemented.

So far as I know, Facebook has yet to attempt the use of patent 7,669,123 as a weapon. On the other hand, they have tried to trademark words like “Face” and “Book” and sued companies that “infringed”, so watch out for more fun when Facebook decides that 7,827,208 is a sharper sword than those previously in their arsenal.

And once again: software patents are generally a bad idea: Microsoft Word took over the word processor market by being good software and using Microsoft’s marketing muscle. WordStar and WordPerfect didn’t go away because of lawsuits or patents; they became irrelevant because Microsoft Word made them irrelevant.

Now if Facebook would only put aside their focus on legalities like 7,669,123 and 7,827,208 long enough to concentrate instead on The Facelift of Social Networking.

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