The Old Guard Coughs
When was the last time Yahoo launched or did something you cared about? Precisely! Anything Facebook does is met with a barrage of interest, criticism and threats from users. Why? Because people care about the service, something that seems to have stopped happening for Yahoo a good few years ago. In fact, our last story on Yahoo simply asks "Yahoo Adds Apps Search: So What?" which sums things up neatly.
Perhaps because the scales of success are tipping so much in Facebook's favor, Yahoo has decided now is a good time to launch a little legal maneuvering to cash in on Facebook's action and its upcoming US$ 100 billion IPO. The patents are in the advertising, privacy and user customization areas of the site, all details that any sane person would consider obvious and preexisting.
However, the American patent and legal system has never been sane or reasonable, so expect some grandstanding in and out of the courts as both sides try to twist a judge's view to their highly distorted realities.
Update: The level of disdain for Yahoo's action is spreading wide and fast, from billionaire Mark Cuban who (kinda) hope it succeeds just to shame the patent laws into some kind of reform. A former Yahoo insider tells of how the company encouraged them to patent anything they could and many are pointing out that Yahoo's "patented features" are in general use all over the place.
While Yahoo and Facebook get ready for the social media fight, an interested party will be Microsoft, which already has a cross-licensing deal with Yahoo and is a Facebook investor. A little cross-licensing here or there could see this whole story vanish without a trace.
Of course, Facebook might not want the aggravation before its IPO and might seek to do a deal. In its comments about the case, Facebook says negotiations were limited to "some short phone calls," which sounds like Yahoo is going for a quick fix to boost its ailing fortunes.
You can read the original court document here. Among the patents being used is one that states, "Method and system for optimum placement of advertising on a web page." So we're not talking rocket science here, or even kindergarten science. If memory serves, Yahoo took Google to court shortly before that company's IPO. Perhaps it's found one product that finally works.