Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is already the undisputed king of social networks, but now he has one more prize: 18 key patents related to social networks, quietly purchased this summer from the industry’s faded pioneer, Friendster.
The Friendster patents were transfered to Facebook on June 7, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s database.
The patents, seven of which have been awarded to Friendster by the Patent Office and 11 of which are still pending, include a “system and method for managing an online social network,” “feeding updates to landing pages of users of an online social network from external sources,” and a “system, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks,” among others. Together, they appear to give Facebook control over a substantial portfolio of intellectual property covering the basic operations of any social network.
Friendster, the earliest social network to reach mass-market status in the early 2000′s, was swiftly overtaken by first MySpace and then Facebook. Friendster remains popular in parts of Southeast Asia, though, and as a result of its presence there, was purchased by MOL, a Malaysian online payments company, last December for $39.5 million. It had been aggressively pursuing social-networking patents for some time.
Of course, Facebook has since surpassed MySpace, and is now the undisputed leader in social networking, with 500 million users.
MOL and Facebook did strike a partnership in July to use Facebook’s Credits virtual currency, and it’s possible that the patents were sold in conjunction with that deal. Update: GigaOm’s Liz Gannes reports that Facebook paid $40 million for the patent portfolio.
Social-networking patents have been hotly contested as early innovators sought to claim credit and intellectual-property rights over their operations. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman jointly purchased a key patent, in part to make sure that patents wouldn’t be used to quash innovation in the nascent industry.
Facebook spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin confirmed the assignment of the patent portfolio but did not comment on the deal terms. Friendster’s press representatives did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams, who is listed as the inventor on several of the patents.