Looking at the Facebook Patent
Facebook was recently granted a patent for "Dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network". This has generated much news, and has many people complaining about software patents. Unfortunately most comments look no further than the title.
The title is irrelevant. In fact, most of the text of a patent is irrelevant. Whenever you are presented with a patent, you should start with the independent claims. The claims are what you litigate (sue over), and the independent claims are the broadest. If you create a "social network news feed" which does not match one of the claims in Facebook's patent exactly (or equivalently), this patent has no bearing on you.
The three independent claims (1, 16, 24) are almost exactly the same, differing in the embodiments of a "method", a "system", and a "computer readable medium" and changing the grammatical structure to fit. Here is the first one, the others are trivially the same:
- 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.
Infringing this claim requires (a) monitoring activity, (b) storing it in a database, (c) generating new items from the activity that you plan on showing users, (d) attaching a link to participate in the same activity, (e) limiting who can see them, (f) displaying more than one news item to a user who did not specifically ask for it.
I would say that any basic security monitoring and alerting system would be sufficient prior art, except for (e). The claim specifically mentions attaching a link from "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". This seems an oddly specific limitation on the claim, which leads me to believe (given the massive prior art list) that the claim was not accepted without it. So, if you write a news feed that does not attach at least one link that does exactly this, you are not infringing this claim.
PS: You should should have realized by now that this patent has nothing at all to do with twitter. Or really most social network feeds.
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