Facebook has been awarded a patent that appears to give it sweeping intellectual property jurisdiction over location-enabled social networking, something that our colleagues at BNET first noticed on Wednesday. Considering the geolocation space still does not have a single dominant player, the possession of this kind of patent may be a powerful weapon for Facebook that has broad implications for the industry.
Patent no. 7,809,805, called "Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members," is extremely detailed. Among the concepts it claims are the sending and receiving of location-based status messages (what are commonly known as "check-ins"), the technology to store these check-ins, the ability to sense a street address to store in a check-in, and the receiving of a friend's check-in.
Facebook was, by many accounts, late to the game on geolocation. It mulled purchasing Foursquare, currently the most talked-about start-up in the space, but after Foursquare asked for a higher price tag Facebook withdrew its bid. In August, Facebook launched Facebook Places, a "check-in" service that would ultimately enable third parties to incorporate geolocation into their Facebook apps. And while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today that Facebook Places is "already by far the biggest places and location application that's out there," there are still plenty of competitors. Foursquare, despite recent server outages, dominates headlines. Google still has its Latitude platform. And Twitter recently turned on "geotagging" of tweets.
Some in the tech industry are worried that this patent gives Facebook too much power. We've seen this concern before. Earlier this year, Facebook was awarded a patent pertaining to its "news feed" technology, which some prominent members in the tech community slammed as an anticompetitive gesture that could snuff out any other companies building real-time streaming technology. You haven't, however, heard the likes of Twitter complaining about it. (That doesn't mean it won't be in the future.)
Facebook also owns a portfolio of social-media patents that it acquired from erstwhile rival Friendster.