Community website Friendster has been awarded a patent for online social networking. The US Patent and Trademark Office has accepted Friendster's application, which was filed three years ago.
The company's patent describes a "system, method and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks".
Friendster was a pioneer of the booming social networking craze, but failed to turn a profit and had to be refinanced by existing investors. Other sites, such as MySpace and Bebo, have had more recent success in attracting huge numbers of members.
Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams is named as the inventor of the process. Abrams was replaced as chief executive of the company by backers, who had initially put $15 million behind the firm.
Following the sale of competitor MySpace to News Corporation for $500m last autumn, Friendster was widely understood to be for sale. When no buyer was found at the desired price, investors put more money behind the company in February of this year.
Friendster president Kent Lindstrom said that more patents would follow. "This patent is the first of many expected to be awarded to Friendster over the next several years," said Lindstrom. "[It] underscores the company's ongoing commitment to innovation in social networking."
The patent gives a broad description of now commonplace social networking processes and could be used to hinder the development of rival firms.
The patent explains:
"…a computer system collects descriptive data about various individuals and allows those individuals to indicate other individuals with whom they have a personal relationship. The descriptive data and the relationship data are integrated and processed to reveal the series of social relationships connecting any two individuals within a social network."
The pathways connecting any two individuals can be displayed. Further, the social network itself can be displayed to any number of degrees of separation. A user of the system can determine the optimal relationship path (i.e., contact pathway) to reach desired individuals. A communications tool allows individuals in the system to be introduced (or introduce themselves) and initiate direct communication."
It is not clear whether or not Friendster will pursue all other social networking sites using the patent. Lindstrom told Red Herring magazine that it was too early to say what action it would take. "We’ll do what we can to protect our intellectual property," he said.