In 2006, former Yahoo employee Thyagarajapuram S. Ramakrishnan was working for Facebook when he filed a patent for the news feed. Today in a sweet piece of irony, Facebook is using that same patent to sue Yahoo. Facebook claims that Yahoo’s Flickr Photostream and Activity Feeds infringe on “Generating a Feed of Stories Personalized for Members of a Social Network”.
This U.S. Patent 7,827,208 for “generating dynamic relationship-based content personalized for members of a web-based social network [with] weighting by affinity” and nine others could help Facebook escape a costly settlement over the original patent lawsuit Yahoo’s filed against it last month. See kids, trolling doesn’t always pay.
[Read my follow-up: "How Facebook's Winning The War Against Yahoo: Patent By Patent" to learn about each patent in the countersuit and how they give Facebook the advantage]
Ramakrishnan, then working for Facebook, teamed up with Andrew Bosworth (Director of Engineering), Chris Cox (VP of Product), Ruchi Sanghvi (news feed product manager, now at Dropbox), Adam D’Angelo (Former CTO, now at Quora) to file the news feed patent on August 11th, 2006. A month later, the feature launched causing mass protest by the Facebook user base. Soon, though, the highly relevant content feed sorted via the ‘208 patent technology became a popular and defining feature of the social network.
It wasn’t until over two years after the Facebook news feed launch that both Yahoo’s Flickr and Profiles added similar feeds of the recent activity of one’s contacts. The copying was so obvious that Facebook made its news feed patent the first of the 10 patents exhibited in its infringement counter-claim against Yahoo.
So, either Yahoo didn’t do its homework, or it must have expected Ramakrishnan’s ‘208 patent to come back and bite it in the ass. The patent could help Facebook negotiate its way out paying huge amounts of cash or stock to license the 10 patents Yahoo is suing it with.
A legal stalemate would actually turn out to be a huge fail for Yahoo. It’s received a ton of hate from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the public for trolling Facebook with vague patents rather than actually innovating. Other former employees have chastised it for “weaponizing” their inventions.
The whole debacle could make recruiting tough, and retaining employees tougher for Yahoo. So by going on the offensive while vulnerable itself, Yahoo may have ensured that when its employees have brilliant ideas, they’ll already be working for somebody else.
[Image Credit: 20th Century Fox]