Once upon a time, Google was the company to sue. Now it seems to have passed the mantle to Facebook, which is facing an entertaining array of bizarre and quixotic lawsuits–many of them filed in the last few days, and with little legal merit. (Below, Facebook’s new HQ in Palo Alto.)
The headliner: Phoenix Media, maker of personal and dating-service ads used by 200 newspapers nationally, is suing Facebook for patent infringement. What’s the alleged infraction? The lawsuit says that Facebook copies Phoenix’s patented “method of creating and sharing a profile page.” The company hasn’t said how much in damages it will seek, but if it doesn’t win against Facebook, it can always sue every single other Web 2.0 Web site on earth.
Next on the docket is WhoGlue, in a suit that also claims patent infringement. This time the target is Facebook’s “information management system,” which it uses to control personal information. WhoGlue provides back-end services for trade groups and other associations and uses its privacy filter to create “networking opportunities” between members of those groups. The social network’s privacy controls are at the center of the dispute.
And yet, neither of these patents would seem to stand much of a chance in the wake of In re Bilski, a Federal Circuit Court decision from last year that deemed “business method” patents indefensible. That includes patents for trading algorithms, software, cloud-computing architecture, and more–all potentially made impotent. (Though the Supreme Court may eventually hear an appeal, having granted the case certiorari.)
“Business method” patents aren’t the only suits in play. In Chicago, a woman is suing Facebook for defamation on behalf of her son after his peers created a false account in his name, and allegedly proceeded to post racist comments about President Barack Obama. Game censorship advocate Jack Thompson is pursuing a similar suit, citing an “I hate Jack Thompson” group on Facebook, and two Facebook advertisers are suing the company, claiming “click-through fraud.”
If you’re a corporate lawyer without work, it may be time to send your resume to Palo Alto.