Facebook Patents Developing: A Lawsuit From Mitel; More Patent Applications From AOL, Others

For those who may have thought that last week’s patent lawsuit filed by Yahoo against Facebook was a one-off, here are some developments that indicate that we may be seeing more of this to come:

Facebook has now been sued by Mitel, an Ottawa, Canada-based enterprise IT company; and there is emerging evidence of others, including AOL, filing fresh patent applications to cover ever more aspects of social media services.

The Mitel Networks suit, filed on March 16, 2012, in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, alleges infringement of two different patents, one for an “automatic web page generator” and another for “pro-active features for telephony.” They date from 1999 and 2007.

And two patent applications filed last week come from Compass Labs and AOL and respectively cover “user interest analysis and systems” and “content publication activity by a user.”

Mitel says in the suit that Facebook infringed and continues to infringe on its patents. Mitel said that it had originally brought this to light in a letter dated July 2011, and another in September 2011.

“Mitel has suffered and will continue to suffer damage,” the company’s lawyers write. “Mitel is entitled to recover damages adequate to compensate for that infringement in an amount that will be ascertained at trial, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty.”

We have contacted Mitel and the company is not providing much in the way of comment on the suit, neither to us or to The Next Web, which also reported on it, except to confirm the filing. But we have seen that Mitel is not new to this game. Most recently, in March, it settled a case against a company called Klausner Technologies over visual voicemail patents.

Meanwhile, two more patent applications have emerged that also point to potential actions against Facebook and perhaps other social networks.

AOL (owner of TechCrunch), last week assured investors that it had a strategy for its patents. Some of that strategy is getting a bit clearer: on March 15, the company filed a patent application around using messaging to alert users when another user has had some activity on the network. From the patent application:

Collecting and distributing information related to recent content publication activity of an instant messaging (IM) user provides other users in a network with timely, relevant information about people known to the user or within the same social network. A user participating in a social network can quickly and efficiently perceive new information related to other users (referred to as co-users) in a social network by reviewing the co-users’ recent content publication activity. A user may be made able to do so without requiring the co-user to send a communication directly to the user regarding the new facts or new content, and also without requiring the user to actively browse or request information about the co-user.

Interestingly, the filing looks like a revised application, in which some 51 of the original 52 claims have been removed. One patent lawyer told TechCrunch that the AOL filing comes from a line of related cases all filed around 2006; that this application appears to be related to patents already owned by AOL; and that this newest application had gotten the “treatment”:

“It is being honed, specifically, to read on Facebook,” he said. “The claim very clearly has been crafted/tweaked to read on the wall updates that you get when someone posts something new in their status update.  This shows: 1) observation/monitoring of FB features; 2) active efforts to picket fence around these features by AOL.”

He adds that this is another sign of AOL paying attention to Facebook, “which, usually, is a precursor (much like foreshocks) to a larger ‘event’ later on.”

Compass Labs, filer of the second patent application, is also homing in on social media, but it’s less clear that this is directly related to a potential litigation, says the lawyer.