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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Can You Patent The Idea of Recommending Contacts in a Social Network?

Comments (16)

Microsoft is trying to.  It’s up on PeerToPatent and you can comment on this patent application (and the USPTO will presumably listen to you) if you’d like to help keep the world free of really silly software patents.  Following is the abstract.

"A method and system for recommending potential contacts to a target user is provided. A recommendation system identifies users who are related to the target user through no more than a maximum degree of separation. The recommendation system identifies the users by starting with the contacts of the target user and identifying users who are contacts of the target user’s contacts, contacts of those contacts, and so on. The recommendation system then ranks the identified users, who are potential contacts for the target user, based on a likelihood that the target user will want to have a direct relationship with the identified users. The recommendation system then presents to the target user a ranking of the users who have not been filtered out."

Dear friends at Microsoft – please stop patenting stuff like this.  Just implement it in Outlook – or – even better – Exchange. 

I hate writing blog posts like this – it makes me tired.  If I’m the guys at Xobni, I’m working on (a) getting my patent filing updated and filed and (b) commenting on the PeerToPatent site about my prior art.  Actually, I’m probably just ignoring this and innovating like crazy.  But that’s just me.

  • http://robjohnson.tumblr.com Rob

    I'm no attorney, but I seem to remember that for something to be patentable is must be non-obvious from prior art to a person ordinarily skilled in the industry. Surely the step from having a list of friends to recommending a list of friends doesn't pass the non-obvious requirement, right?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Surely! But that doesn’t stop the patent filing from happening, the USPTO from spending time on it, and the possibility of a patent actually getting issued.

      • Ben Longstaff

        Credible claims no but its a useful tool if it gets issued. Not quite as good as a legitimate defensive patent but it can still be effective none the less.

        A corporation like Microsoft could sue a smaller competitor and drain their resources with dragged out court costs. Being right doesn't really mean much if you cant afford the court costs and time to be right.

        Awesome blog btw.

  • Adil

    Can someone outside from america can register for any patent ?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Anyone can try to patent anything from anywhere.

  • Bill Mosby

    By recommending that people go to the PeerToPatent site, you seem to be infringing on the idea of this patent. Or would you still be able to patent this variation on the idea because you're using it for a different purpose?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I don’t understand what you mean by “infringing on the idea of this patent.”  The PeerToPatent site is a public patent review site that is sponsored by the USPTO.  It’s an experiment to see how “public commenting on patent applications” works.

      • Bill Mosby

        I was just trying to be funny- it occurred to me that you were trying to “make a connection” kind of like the patent idea you were telling us about. I have looked at PeerToPatent from time to time and hope it becomes a permanent part of the patent vetting process, as long as we seem to have to put up with software and business method patents.

        • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

          Aha!  My sarcasm / humor filter wasn’t working this early in the morning.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AdminMortgage AdminMortgage

    hi..
    i'm doing my round here..
    very nice blog..
    good info here..
    have a good day..

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AdminMortgage AdminMortgage

    hi..
    i'm doing my round here..
    very nice blog..
    good info here..
    have a good day..

  • http://alittleclarity.wordpress.com Merredith

    Is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Microsoft could be tippy-toeing around Amazon's recommendation engine? And the whole question of whether and how business methods are patentable is being reviewed by the Supreme Court at the moment in In re Bilski — that decision should be handed down any day now, too.

    Maybe we just sit back and let them complicate and then un-complicate things, like a yo-yo…

    • Bill Mosby

      I've read about that case. Here's hoping! I wonder if prayer or some kind of sacrifice would help.

  • http://friendfeed.com/bhc3 Hutch Carpenter

    “Microsoft is trying to. It's up on PeerToPatent and you can comment on this patent application (and the USPTO will presumably listen to you) if you'd like to help keep the world free of really silly software patents”

  • http://friendfeed.com/davew Dave Winer

    Let's hope not! Patents. Brrrr. A cold wind just ran through this room.

  • http://friendfeed.com/jonbrown Jonathan Brown

    You probably will just be able to patent the specific algorithm through which things are recommended.

  • http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate Lou Paglia

    This is a joke. LinkedIn has been doing this for years, recommending contacts that may be related to you, allowing users to upload contact lists so that you can connect and connect to recommended contacts. Their entire business is based on it. Now Peer-to-Patent, social networking on patent data, that has merit. :)

    Now I know why you snark at patent questions and issues. This is up there with patenting one-click capability.

    • Bill Mosby

      I think it may be possible to have a “good” software patent or business method patent, but many existing ones have documented prior art that the PTO was not in a position to find. On the other hand, software production is all about imagination and creation, as opposed to the production of more “concrete” things on which there are many more real-world constraints. So it's very easy for a programmer to generate what looks like a unique solution to a problem; so easy that others likely have done so before and will again without telling anybody. More like creating literature than a physical widget. So I think the courts should just opt us out of all that complication and uncertainty and take us back to the thrilling days of yesteryear when a copyright was the best we could hope for. At least the consequences of the inevitable random “infringement” were somewhat lower.

    • scott

      Go back even further…back to the first bubble, and you might remember Six Degrees doing something very similar, too. If I remember correctly, that was one of their most touted features. But, I have no idea if they implemented it using the same algorithm.

  • BradNickel

    It's bad enough when companies like this pursue ridiculous patents, but its even worse when scum bags like J2 Global/Catch Curve decide to make a living off obviously bad patents. Their model is the worst form of patent abuse. They claim patents on Internet Fax services, which the patent office screwed up on granting, when there is a TON of prior art from MCI and several others. Now, they sue anyone offering Internet Fax services for patent violations, but have made an art form of suing/licensing for just under what it would cost to fight it. Only a few brave folks have decided to fight them and it drains their coffers (J2's goal). Throw the whole damn system and these companies out with it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BradNickel BradNickel

    It's bad enough when companies like this pursue ridiculous patents, but its even worse when scum bags like J2 Global/Catch Curve decide to make a living off obviously bad patents. Their model is the worst form of patent abuse. They claim patents on Internet Fax services, which the patent office screwed up on granting, when there is a TON of prior art from MCI and several others. Now, they sue anyone offering Internet Fax services for patent violations, but have made an art form of suing/licensing for just under what it would cost to fight it. Only a few brave folks have decided to fight them and it drains their coffers (J2's goal). Throw the whole damn system and these companies out with it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Aha!  My sarcasm / humor filter wasn’t working this early in the morning.

  • Merredith

    Is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Microsoft could be tippy-toeing around Amazon's recommendation engine? And the whole question of whether and how business methods are patentable is being reviewed by the Supreme Court at the moment in In re Bilski — that decision should be handed down any day now, too.

    Maybe we just sit back and let them complicate and then un-complicate things, like a yo-yo…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Surely! But that doesn’t stop the patent filing from happening, the USPTO from spending time on it, and the possibility of a patent actually getting issued.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/lou_paglia lou_paglia

    This is a joke. LinkedIn has been doing this for years, recommending contacts that may be related to you, allowing users to upload contact lists so that you can connect and connect to recommended contacts. Their entire business is based on it. Now Peer-to-Patent, social networking on patent data, that has merit. :)

    Now I know why you snark at patent questions and issues. This is up there with patenting one-click capability.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I don’t understand what you mean by “infringing on the idea of this patent.”  The PeerToPatent site is a public patent review site that is sponsored by the USPTO.  It’s an experiment to see how “public commenting on patent applications” works.

  • Bill Mosby

    I think it may be possible to have a "good" software patent or business method patent, but many existing ones have documented prior art that the PTO was not in a position to find. On the other hand, software production is all about imagination and creation, as opposed to the production of more "concrete" things on which there are many more real-world constraints. So it's very easy for a programmer to generate what looks like a unique solution to a problem; so easy that others likely have done so before and will again without telling anybody. More like creating literature than a physical widget. So I think the courts should just opt us out of all that complication and uncertainty and take us back to the thrilling days of yesteryear when a copyright was the best we could hope for. At least the consequences of the inevitable random "infringement" were somewhat lower.

  • Ben Longstaff

    Credible claims no but its a useful tool if it gets issued. Not quite as good as a legitimate defensive patent but it can still be effective none the less.

    A corporation like Microsoft could sue a smaller competitor and drain their resources with dragged out court costs. Being right doesn't really mean much if you cant afford the court costs and time to be right.

    Awesome blog btw.

  • scott

    Go back even further…back to the first bubble, and you might remember Six Degrees doing something very similar, too. If I remember correctly, that was one of their most touted features. But, I have no idea if they implemented it using the same algorithm.

  • Bill Mosby

    I've read about that case. Here's hoping! I wonder if prayer or some kind of sacrifice would help.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Anyone can try to patent anything from anywhere.

  • Adil

    Can someone outside from america can register for any patent ?

  • Bill Mosby

    By recommending that people go to the PeerToPatent site, you seem to be infringing on the idea of this patent. Or would you still be able to patent this variation on the idea because you're using it for a different purpose?

  • Bill Mosby

    I was just trying to be funny- it occurred to me that you were trying to "make a connection" kind of like the patent idea you were telling us about. I have looked at PeerToPatent from time to time and hope it becomes a permanent part of the patent vetting process, as long as we seem to have to put up with software and business method patents.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/rnjohnson rnjohnson

    I'm no attorney, but I seem to remember that for something to be patentable is must be non-obvious from prior art to a person ordinarily skilled in the industry. Surely the step from having a list of friends to recommending a list of friends doesn't pass the non-obvious requirement, right?

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