Facebook (news, site) made certainly a very smart move when it bought up Friendster's patents and patent applications. Fast forward to present day and it turns out one straggler patent app request from 2010 remains. Should this last gem win the approval of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, it would lend Facebook yet another avenue for being -- and staying -- the top dog of social networking.
The app: Controlling Access of User Information Using Social-Networking Information.
The concept: Using degrees of separation between people as the deciding factor in whether one social network user can retrieve information about a second. If there is a close enough relationship between the two parties in question (think the difference between friends and friends of friends), then access to the information is granted. Too great a degree of separation, and the request is denied.
Admittedly, the whole thing is a bit ridiculous. After all, what social network doesn’t allow users to discover information about each other based on the relationships between them?
"The kicker in this case is that one of the applications on which this one is based already received a patent in 2009," said Erik Sherman of BNET.
Patent 7,478,078, which is titled “Method for sharing relationship information stored in a social network database with third party databases” covers the case of a third party database seeking relationship information for someone in that database.
"...because Facebook could base the application on ones filed in 2004, it would have an effective date that predated much of the development in social networking," continued Sherman.
For now, it's important to note that it's only an application, and not yet an actual patent.
Further, pursuing this application, regardless of whether it's approved or not, won't lock everyone else out of social networking -- it'll just make it much more difficult for companies to compete. And that's kind of the point, isn't it?