It’s another lawsuit for Facebook, this time over the way its “Like” button works.
Supposedly, a Dutch programmer, Joannes Jozef Everardus van Der Meer, patented a similar tool some five years before Mark Zuckerberg founded his now-ubiquitous company. Since Van Der Meer died in 2004, his family has been pursuing what they see as adequate compensation for his inventions.
In 1998, Van Der Meer was working on a social diary called Surfbook. He registered a patent for a feature that is in some ways similar to Facebook’s “Like” button. The patent describes “a catalog of network objects of interest to the user.” After reading the patent filing, I have to say it’s indeed similar to Facebook’s approach, although it refers to objects that are part of a diary.
However, the product described in the patent isn’t just for social diaries:
This invention relates generally to computer networks, and more particularly provides a system and method for generating, transferring and using annotated universal addresses which can be presented by multimedia presentation tools, including Internet browsers.
Van Der Meer described his functionality this way:
The system and method enable a user to maintain an ordered set of network object links (annotated universal addresses or AUAs) in an AUA database. The contents of the AUA database are presented to the user within a presentation context (e.g., template format). The system allows the user to select a different presentation context without affecting the contents of the AUA database. One of the types of presentation contexts is organized like a diary or agenda. Each context may include theme sections (e.g., car section, sport section, personal finance section, etc.) and sections per day. All of the sections optionally may be organized by time.
In other words, Van Der Meer’s tool allows users to create an organized “diary or agenda” that’s accessible over time. The patent goes further to say that it could “target more appropriate users with advertisements.” Sound familiar?
Facebook’s got deep pockets, but don’t expect to see this end in some dramatic, Samsung/Apple-like fashion. Most likely Facebook will settle for an undisclosed amount of money and probably try to license the patent, if not buy it outright.
Facebook’s got the experience to deal with patent problems. A good example is when it was sued by Yahoo over 10 patents, and months later settled the dispute and formed an advertising alliance to boot.