Facebook is facing legal action over the use of its “like” button and other social networking features, after the widow of a Dutch programmer claims Facebook is using patented technology. The lawsuit, filed last week, claims that Facebook is infringing two patents owned by Rembrandt Social Media LP, a patent-holding company working on behalf of a dead Dutch programmer called ‘Jos’ Van Der Meer.
Legal papers filed by Fish & Richardson, the law firm representing Rembrandt, said that Van Der Meer was granted the patents in 1998, six years before Facebook was launched.
‘Jos’ Van Der Meer had used the patents to build his social network Surfbook, which allowed people to share information with their friends and family.
According to papers filed by Fish & Richardson, Surfbook featured a ‘Like’ button for users to approve content. Van Der Meer died in 2004, and the patents later passed to Rembrandt.
Rembrandt Social Media claims that Facebook used the patents “without permission to help build the world’s largest social media website”.
Rembrandt is now suing Facebook, and another social media company called Add This, over alleged patent infringement.
The papers claim that Facebook was aware of the patents held in the name of Van Der Meer as it had cited them in its own applications to patent social network technologies.
“We believe Rembrandt’s patents represent an important foundation of social media as we know it, and we expect a judge and jury to reach the same conclusion based on the evidence,” said attorney Tom Melsheimer, counsel for Rembrandt and managing principal of Fish & Richardson’s Dallas office.
Commenting on the news, Jonathan Snade, Corporate and Technology Partner at top 100 law firm Manches, says:
“Given the wide spread use of the “like” button feature across social media these proceedings could have very significant repercussions across the industry. So far there are only two companies named in the proceedings, being Facebook and Add This, but I expect that many more companies will now be checking whether they might also potentially be infringing the relevant patents.
“Given that IP goes to the heart of valuing tech businesses, these proceedings are a reminder for all companies, from young start up ventures to the listed tech giants, to ensure that their IP portfolios are adequately protected and to put in place checks and procedures to ensure that they are not infringing third party rights,” Snade concluded.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously agreed a multimillion dollar settlement with the Winkelvoss twins after they accused him of stealing their idea to launch the social network.
Last year, Facebook also settled a lawsuit over its ‘sponsored stories’ policy by agreeing to make a $10 million (£6m) charity donation.
To date, Facebook has made no comment on the Rembrandt lawsuit.
Read the announcement here