Friendster Patent Could Hurt Rivals

Today I was reading the Wall Street Journal, the actual print version, not the online version. Anyways, in the Marketplace section there’s an interesting article about a patent that Friendster was awarded last month.

The patent they were awarded is related to searching for people online based on their relationships, and they are expecting another patent to come through soon as well. This could mean potentially big problems for other popular social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, and a host of other smaller start-ups.

Friendster executives are now weighing their options. They could either sue their rivals, make them pay patent-licensing fees, or just not take any legal action at all.

With Friendster falling out of favor to main competitors MySpace and Facebook, taking legal action, whether sueing their competition, or forcing them to pay licensing fees, Friendster could potentially make up for some of their recent losses.

On the other hand, however, Friendster may not have a solid case. Their patents will be scrutinized, and it would need to be determined whether their patents cover fundamental inventions or features that competitors could easily avoid using. If others can prove that their activities don’t infringe on Friendster’s claims or can prove that similiar technology existed that precedes Friendster, Friendster may not have a leg to stand on.

In the midst of their declining growth, Friendster is trying to reinvent themselves as a mature, grown-up service featuring mainly adults in their 20s to 30s, instead of the teen audience of MySpace, and college audience of Facebook.

Friendster was one of the first, if not the first, social networking sites of its kind. I’m not sure what that means in relation to their patents, but it will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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