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.