us patent n trdmk office 300x300 Facebook Just Patented The Feed   What Does That Mean For Everyone That Uses Them?There are times when you file a patent that you might never use and forget about it. Then there are times you file a patent and later have granted at the best possible time. Facebook is at just such a moment it seems with the granting of US patent number 7,669,123.

Facebook in 2006 filed for a patent covering ‘the feed,’ as it is known among the tech world. That patent was just granted. Something to note, Facebook filed this before feeds were in vogue, before some social darlings were even born. Meaning: some people seem to stepping on Facebook’s toes in a serious, legal way.

They just patented the damn news feed. It is hard to get around that. To eliminate possible confusion, this is the main claim on the patent (read the full patent here):

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. [Emphasis TNW]

Yes, you read all that correctly. Yes, the patent has been granted. And yes, it seems that many people are in breach of this patent.

Now we are not legal minds here at The Next Web, so we are not going to pass judgement on what this may or may not mean, but we think that it at least seems clear. Given the strength of the main (granted) claim and its corollaries (in a minute), Facebook now appears to have a gigantic legal cudgel to hit other social companies with.

What else does the patent say? Here are some of the claimed methods for the first claim:

  • The method of claim 1, wherein the plurality of activities are selected according to an affinity determined for the viewing user.
  • The method of claim 1, wherein at least one informational link comprises a dropdown menu.
  • The method of claim 1, further comprising displaying advertising with the plurality of news items.
  • The method of claim 1, further comprising: monitoring an interaction of the viewing user with the at least one of the plurality of news items; and utilizing the interaction to select advertising for display to the viewing user.
  • The method of claim 1, further comprising searching the one or more news items for a predetermined character string.

And it goes on. The 16th claim of the patent is huge, stating:

A system for displaying a news feed comprising: a social network environment; a module configured to monitor a plurality of activities in a social network environment; a storage medium for storing the plurality of activities in a database; a module configured to generate 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; a link component configured to attach 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; a privacy component configured to limit access to the plurality of news items to a set of viewing users; and a media generator configured to display 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. [Emphasis TNW]

In the next few weeks we are going to find out just what Facebook thinks they can claim with this patent, what other companies feel that they can defend against, and how aggressive Facebook is going to be to police it.

Sure, Facebook was the biggest social network, but yesterday it did not have the patent to the most popular way to display content inside of a social network.

This is probably going to get ugly.