Facebook Granted Broad Patent Covering Location-Based Social Networks And Checkins

Facebook may have been late to the location wars with Facebook Places launching only a few months ago, but it’s been thinking about how to add location to social networking for years. Yesterday, it was granted a patent on “Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members” which could have serious implications for other geo-mobile social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla.

The patent appears to be pretty broad. It covers a “method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location.” The location is determined using a “GPS identifier” and it combines a status update with the member’s current location. It also seems to cover what are now known as checkins:

the status information manually provided by the first user on an input module of the mobile device; associating the location information with the status information of the first user in a database; and sending the status information and the location information of the first user to a second user for display.

In other words, Facebook might just have been granted a patent to Foursquare’s (and Gowalla’s) main feature. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will treat this merely as a defensive patent or use it as a stick in negotiations with other mobile social networks. Hopefully, Facebook won’t go all Microsoft on other startups and use this patent to eliminate competition.

The patent was first noticed a few hours ago by Erik Sherman at Bnet. Here is the abstract:

Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members are provided. According to one embodiment, contact content including an associated GPS identifier and status for web-based social network members located at or near the same location automatically appears on a GPS-enabled device. A further exemplary system includes a GPS-enabled device configured to receive a GPS identifier and a status representing a location and a current state for a web-based social network member, a processing module that associates the received GPS-identifier and the received status, and a communications module that sends the associated GPS-identifier and status to a server comprising a web-based social network database. Contact content in a web-based social network database record in the web-based social network database is updated to include the associated GPS identifier and status for the web-based social network member.

It kind of puts the Facebook Places (aka, Facesquare) icon in a new light.