Friendster Awarded Social Networking Patent

Michael Hayes
SAN FRANCISCO — Operators of mainstream and social networking sites alike may soon find themselves beholden to Friendster, which recently was awarded a patent covering many of the applications used by sites such as MySpace by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent, which names Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams as the inventor, refers to a “system, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks.”

Abrams is no longer with the company, which filed for the patent in 2003.

News of the patent could spark a revolution in the social networking sector because its issuance gives Friendster, which has lost significant market share to its competitors, the legal high ground, patent attorney Bill Heinze said.

“Once the patent is issued there is a presumption of validity that follows with it,” Heinze said.

How Friendster will choose to exploit the new patent remains unknown.

Friendster President Kent Lindstrom said that it was too early to say how the company would use the patent, but added that “we’ll do what we can to protect our intellectual property.”

In the meantime, Friendster plans to marry its intellectual property bonanza with a fresh infusion of cash from advertisers as well as improved page designs to reestablish a dominant position in the social networking arena.

"This patent is the first of many expected to be awarded to Friendster over the next several years and underscores the company's ongoing commitment to innovation in social networking," Lindstrom said.

Friendster has 11 additional patents awaiting approval.

Although the patents could be a white knight for the troubled company, Friendster nearly missed the opportunity to protect itself. Patent applications were filed at the insistence of Kleiner Perkins, when it funded the company in 2003.

“Frankly, we’d almost forgotten about it,” Lindstrom said.