I know a bit about patents and patent law by proxy – it’s one of the many information sets in my head that gain me absolutely nothing. It’s not even good for social talk, unless you are a patent lawyer, patent examiner, or inventor, and even then it’s pretty dry stuff. Go look up some random patent and attempt to read it if you are suffering from insomnia or want to blow your mind up. Legal writing drives me wild in frustration, and patent documents in particular. It’s kind of like being in some endless overcomplicated corn maze where the logical and direct path you think you are taking is actually leading you back to dead ends and $6.00 cups of tepid cider and yet you have to keep hacking your way out. The peculiarities of legal writing are formulated to both persuade the reader and protect the client, and to jam in as much arcane and obtuse elitist legal jargon to sound 100% assured of your position, even if you know you may be full of horse hooey. It’s all about someone winning and someone losing, if you want to strip it bare. Games, bah.

I propose that most patents are written to confuse the examiner so badly that he or she just gives up and says OH WHATEVER, GRANTED. Maybe that’s what happened with United States Patent # 7,669,123, awarded to social networking giant Facebook. It covers the minutia of a Facebook user’s real-time news feed, similar to Twitter’s rolling status world, including links to related information and the order and control of the individual’s news feed. The flow chart looks like this:

Do note that this patent was filed in 2006, which means it’s been bouncing back and forth between Facebook’s legal team and the USPTO for tweaking all this time, kind of like when you go the wrong way in your car with your nav system on and it sighs and goes, “…RECALCULATING.” Why did Facebook invest the significant time, effort, and money in this patent? Duhhhhh, they want to make MORE MONEY. If they secure the legal rights to this particular set of networking tech, then all the rest of the social sites will either have to markedly change the way their news feeds are set up or tithe $$$ to Facebook, or risk getting sued. Here’s where everyone starts playing legal chicken. This is a fact I learned when I was a child, via a little steel-testing invention my dad patented that ended up being used industry-wide, while our family dodged creditors: your patent is worthless if you don’t have the time and money to defend it. Is Facebook going to further go down the IP-protection path and aggressively sue Google or MySpace for infringement? Will those sites take their big money and fight back, trying in the process to weaken Facebook’s patent? Facebook has absolutely won an intimidation factor here with this patent, and that may be enough – too early to tell strategy yet.

When you start to think about what this all is really about, it gets pretty absurd:

Who wins? Duhhhhh, the lawyers, again.