Facebook Stole Ideas from 'Surfbook': Lawsuit

Dennis Faas's picture

A recently-filed lawsuit claims some of Facebook's main features, including the "like" button, copy ideas patented 15 years ago. In fact, the lawsuit is being brought on behalf of a man who died just a few months after Facebook launched.

The lawsuit has been filed by Rembrandt Social Media, a company set up to handle the intellectual property of Dutch programmer Joannes Jozef Everardus van Der Meer, who died in 2004. At that time Facebook was only available to students in select colleges, though it had just become a corporation.

'Surfbook' the Facebook Framework?

The patents at stake date back to 1998, when Van Der Meer was working on a site called 'Surfbook.'

He patented a "web page diary" technology that would allow users to "collect personal information and third-party content, organize the information chronologically on a personalized Web page, and share the information with a selected group of people, such as the end user's friends, through the use of user-settable privacy levels." (Source: nbcnews.com)

Rembrandt lawyers argue that Facebook's "Timeline" feature is based on this patented idea.

Patent Describes Button Like 'Like' Button

A second Van Der Meer patent involves a system that allows a user to click a button on a third-party website (the button being placed on the site by the site creator) and copy across content to the user's "web page diary." According to the lawyers, that's what Facebook now offers with its "like" button feature.

Right now Rembrandt is only pursuing legal action against Facebook. However, they haven't ruled out going after other companies who have used Van Der Meer's ideas. Google, which is responsible for the Google Plus social network, may be Rembrandt's next target.

Rembrandt's lawyers say they believe their client should be awarded damages for past infringement, with the amount being trebled because of Facebook's "willfull infringement." Rembrandt may also seek a permanent ban preventing Facebook from using the feature in the future. (Source: arstechnica.net)

Not everyone believes the lawsuit should result in damages being awarded. In fact, some critics insist that Rembrandt Social Media is nothing more than a patent troll firm whose primary function is to acquire parents and then sue the firms that infringe on those dormant ideas.

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