In quite an anti-social move, Yahoo has sued its former business partner Facebook for patent infringement. This is one of the first patent litigations in the relatively new and evolving field of social networking.

Yahoo claims that Facebook is infringing ten different patents related to a variety of different aspects of social networking. These aspects generally include instant messaging advertising, fraud prevention in a pay-per-click system, privacy protection and controls, news feed and information customization, and network architecture involved with social networking. Specifically, the following patents are involved in the suit:

U.S. Patent No. 6,907,566 (and divisional patents 7,100,111 and 7,373,599) are each directed to methods and systems for placing graphical objects, such as advertisements, on a webpage. The placement of the objects on the webpage is optimized based on performance data. One specific embodiment is placement of an advertisement on a webpage to prioritize the likelihood that a user will click on the advertisement;

U.S. Patent No. 7,668,861 is directed to statistical modeling methods to differentiate valid website interactions from invalid interactions. Examples where this type of modeling is useful includes a website hosting a trivia challenge who wants to make certain a participant only enters the contest a single time, a search engine provider who determines the number of times a certain search term is requested by a search engine’s users, and a pay for placement and performance website operator that leases space on a website by charging them only when the space the advertiser is leasing gets used by the website’s users;

U.S. Patent No. 7,269,590 is directed to processes for managing a customized view of a social network user’s profile information. The processes determine the amount and type of information that is disclosed to the requesting user. The amount and type of information may be determined based on various commonalities between the user and the requesting user, such as whether they share a common activity, category, group, or relationship.

U.S. Patent No. 7,599,935 is related to the ‘590 patent and is directed to enabling a user to preview content as it would be seen by a second user depending upon the commonalities between the users;

U.S. Patent No. 7,454,509 is directed to systems and methods that associate communities of users around specific criteria to focus a data stream to the specific communities. For example, a data stream may be biased towards songs by Barry Manilow that is applicable to a community who indicates a preference for this type of music. One application is to focus the data stream to maintain compliance to constraints imposed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act;

U.S. Patent No 5,983,227 is directed to a custom page server that uses user preferences that are organized into templates. Live data used to fill the templates is stored local to the page server. The structure of the page server allows for faster custom pages and the ability to handle large quantities of users;

U.S. Patent No. 7,747,648 is directed to information retrieval protocols that use a world model. The model includes inter-related models that correspond to something in the real world, such as a place or a person. The protocols provide a channel through which a user can contact a person responsible for the model; and

U.S. Patent No. 7,406,501 is directed to systems and methods for instant messaging using an email protocol. The systems provide for both conversion of instant messages into e-mail messages, and e-mail messages into instant messages.

Facebook denies that they infringe any of these ten patents and has vowed to fight. Many of these patents appear to be directed to basic concepts that may have been in use prior to Yahoo’s patent filings. Further, the patents issued before much of the current case law involving statutory subject matter (i.e., 35 U.S.C. 101) regarding computer-related information. Issues may arise regarding whether these patents meet the new requirements as now interpreted by the Patent Office and various courts.

Yahoo is bringing this suit at a time when Facebook may be somewhat vulnerable. Facebook is in the process of an initial stock market listing that is expected to provide a valuation of between $75 billion -$100 billion. Facebook may be more willing to settle this dispute prior to the offering to remove any potential issues that could affect the value of the company. Yahoo has used this timing strategy before when they sued Google for patent infringement in 2004. That suit was filed at a time when Google was preparing for their initial public listing.