Facebook “news feed” Patent

There has been a bit of a stir in the online community on hearing the news that the Facebook team (Zuckerberg et al.) have been granted a patent (US 7,669,123).  The patent has claims directed to “displaying a news feed in a social network environment”.

As with many reports concerning patents, there has been a lot of misinterpretation (“Facebook patents news-feed”) of the facts. Hence, I will try to remedy some of that below:

  • A patent appears only to have been granted in the US.
  • When analysing a granted patent the first place to start is the independent claims that set out the scope of legal protection.  In this case the independent claims are 1, 16 and 24.  They are directed to the standard set of “method”, “system” and “computer readable medium”.  Each independent claim has a similar feature-set.
  • Claim 1 specifies:
  • 1. A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment, the method comprising:
  • monitoring a plurality of activities in a social network environment; storing the plurality of activities in a database;
    generating a plurality of news items regarding one or more of the activities, wherein one or more of the news items is for presentation to one or more viewing users and relates to an activity that was performed by another user; attaching a link associated with at least one of the activities of another user to at least one of the plurality of news items where the link enables a viewing user to participate in the same activity as the another user;
    limiting access to the plurality of news items to a set of viewing users; and displaying a news feed comprising two or more of the plurality of news items to at least one viewing user of the predetermined set of viewing users.

  • As you can see, this requires several steps over-and-above simply “providing a news feed”.  However, at first glance, the claim seems pretty broad; I can foresee several “news feeds” implemented by parties other than Facebook falling within the claim.
  • The filing date is 11 August 2006.  It appears that a fair few documents were cited as prior art.  However, the US Examiner was convinced of patentability.  If the online community is concerned they could possibly locate relevant art pre-dating the filing date.  I can see arguments brewing over the precise meaning of “in a social networking environment”; does this cover project management or calendar applications?
  • It will be interesting to see whether Facebook decide to enforce the patent against anyone.  My gut feeling is that there could be relevant prior art out there that was not presented to the US Examiner.

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