Facebook receives patent for location-based social networks

Facebook has just received a patent for location-based social networks, also known as checkins, which could potentially spell disaster for similar services like Foursquare and Gowalla. The patent was filed on February 28, 2007, and has just been approved by the US Patent Office.

Facebook started up their location services, called Facebook Places, just over two months ago, and has already received a patent titled “method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location.”

The location of the user is determined by a GPS identifier, posting the information to a users status. In other words, checkins. The patent also covers users sharing their information with a secondary user of their location:

A method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location, the method executed by a computer system and comprising: receiving location information and status information from a mobile device of a first user of the social networking service, the location information representing a geographic location of the first user, the status information manually provided by the first user on an input module of the mobile device; associating the location information with the status information of the first user in a database; and sending the status information and the location information of the first user to a second user for display.

The patent was spotted by Bnet.com, and as the patent reads, is pretty broad in terms of what it covers. There are some restrictions and limitations to the patent, like the data must be held in a database - something any website would potentially want to keep, i.e., status updates - the system has to send the information to a second party, such as your friends.

As Facebook has just received the patent, it's unclear if they will use this to eliminate the competition or to prevent other social networks like MySpace from starting up any form of competition.

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12 Comments

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People like to complain about software patents (especially vagues one), but is anyone actually doing anything about it? Any actual politicans or groups looking into this?

I am wondering, how are sites like gowalla and foursquare supposed to KNOW they have developed something thats against a patent that haven't even been granted?

Wow. One has to wonder who is actually accepting these patents. This type of technology is both obvious and old.

People have been doing this since smart phones allowed applications to get GPS information. Image geotagging is also an obviously related topic.

It's no wonder people are afraid to start businesses when anyone can be sitting on some ridiculous patent like this. Utterly stupid.

The US Patent office is long overdue for a major overhaul. I'm going to patent something ridiculous like "typing in forums" and the "use of the space bar" and see if it's granted. Then I'll kick back and watch the royalties roll-in.

WJrandon said,
The US Patent office is long overdue for a major overhaul. I'm going to patent something ridiculous like "typing in forums" and the "use of the space bar" and see if it's granted. Then I'll kick back and watch the royalties roll-in.

Agreed. This is getting ridiculous.

ILikeTobacco said,
anyone seen the MyTown game on iTouch/iPhone. it does this and has been for some time now, not just 2 months...

Well the patent was filed in 2007...

sask said,

Well the patent was filed in 2007...

Took almost 4 years... That explains how all these lawsuits keep coming up. Patent office needs to step it up and get this stuff around faster...

tomjol said,
I. Hate. Patents.

EDIT: Also, Google Latitude?

Patents are in place to encourage people to develop (if you cant make money from developing something then as a business why would you invest time and money), however many digital patents are ridiculous, as they do not state how something is done but rather the thing that is done - which you should not be able to patent,

lt8480 said,

Patents are in place to encourage people to develop (if you cant make money from developing something then as a business why would you invest time and money), however many digital patents are ridiculous, as they do not state how something is done but rather the thing that is done - which you should not be able to patent,

Allow me to rephrase - I hate these ****ing software-"related" patents. As you said, they're patenting what one shouldn't be able to patent.