A 400-attorney law firm with roots serving inventors like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison is now suing Facebook over its use and implementation of the now-ubiquitous like button.
Instant non-starter, right?
Don’t be so quick to pre-judge. The lawyer handling the case, Tom Melsheimer, previously won a $41 million judgement from a contact lens manufacturer for the very same plaintif who is bringing this suit, and he sounds confident.
“I wouldn’t have filed the case if we didn’t feel very confident in our position,” Melsheimer told me this morning as he was stepping off an airplane in Dallas. “This was a case that I liked, our firm liked, and I think we have a reasonable chance of winning.”
Melsheimer won’t say how much he hopes to charge Facebook for the patent, only that that he and Rembrandt Social Media LP, which owns the patents in question, are aiming “for a reasonable royalty.” Of course, even at a penny — or a fraction of a cent — per “like,” the billions and billions of likes that now permeate the web could quickly add up to a very big number with a lot of zeroes behind it.
One of the patents is a “method and apparatus” of created a web page diary with “multimedia references to contents of websites.” The other is a “system and method” of creative universal addresses for digital data.
Both were originally filed by a now-deceased Dutch programmer over a decade ago, “Jos” van der Meer, who attempted to build Surfbook.com (now defunct). Apparently, Surfbook was intended to be a sort of social diary, not terribly dissimilar to Facebook — or any other social networking site.
Put them together and there’s no doubt that the two patents do describe, at least in some general way, processes of adding digital content from sites around the web to a personal profile page. The question, however, is whether that general description means that Facebook’s specific implementation of its wall, status updates, and timeline criminally infringe on the patents.
The patents are now held by that infamous type of company, a non-practicing entity, otherwise known as patent troll. Rembrandt Social Media LP, which is the specific company in this case, has previously claimed ownership of critical technologies in the digital TV and cable modems, in both cases buying patents and then ignoring agreements which were made to license those patents cheaply and easily.
“Rembrandt is a company that seeks out inventors with compelling story to tell about technology that has become core technology in a significant industry,” Melsheimer told me when I asked if the company was a typical patent troll. “It’s not an outfit that scoops up patents at a garage sale or something like that.”
The attorney firm handling the lawsuit for Rembrandt, Fish & Richardson, was founded in 1878 and has been named the “top patent litigation firm in the country” for each of the past nine years.
In other words, while this seems like a typical frivolous patent troll lawsuit, it’s probably a little more serious than the Paul Ceglia I-own-half-of-Facebook nonsense.