Yahoo threatens Facebook with patent war

Summary:Yahoo is now a patent troll. Its first target is Facebook. Yahoo is old and a failure. Facebook is new and a success. Instead of mooching off Facebook, Yahoo is biting the hand that feeds it.

Yahoo may not be doing so well lately, and the failing Internet giant think it has finally found a solution: attack Facebook. The problem with such a brilliant plan is that Facebook is one of the few companies that is keeping Yahoo alive. Nevertheless, Yahoo claims Facebook is infringing on 10 to 20 of Yahoo's patents across technologies that include advertising, the personalization of Web sites, social networking, and messaging.

"Yahoo has a responsibility to its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders to protect its intellectual property," a Yahoo spokesperson told The New York Times. "We must insist that Facebook either enter into a licensing agreement or we will be compelled to move forward unilaterally to protect our rights."

Yahoo executives met with Facebook executives today to break the bad news and ask for a licensing fee. I got in touch with Facebook and got a response back surprisingly quickly. "Yahoo contacted us at the same time they called the New York Times and so we haven't had the opportunity to fully evaluate their claims," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

One of the few recent successes for Yahoo has been the resuscitation of Yahoo News. Guess how that happened. That's right: Yahoo recently implemented Open Graph with its desktop Facebook app, which also sends traffic to their mobile web app. Here's some early results from a Facebook Developers post from three months ago:

Yahoo! News: Built a deep Open Graph integration into its site and more than ten million people have chosen to turn on the new social news experience to share and discover news from friends. Yahoo! News has seen a 600% increase in traffic coming from Facebook, and people who connect to Facebook on Yahoo! read more articles than the average user.

Here's some even more recent results, from a Facebook Developers post just last week:

A final example, Yahoo!, recently implemented Open Graph with their desktop Facebook app, which also sends traffic to their mobile web app. Traffic to the mobile Yahoo! News web app from Facebook Mobile has increased three-and-a-half times since February 14th, to 1.6 million visitors a day.

I did a quick check for how the two companies stack up in patents at The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Yahoo has thousands of patents, although as already mentioned only a handful apply to Facebook's business. Facebook meanwhile has 62, though it's hard to say if Facebook will argue Yahoo infringes on any of them.

The timing is of course perfect: just in advance of Facebook's initial public offering (IPO). Based on the social networking giant's statement, it's obvious to me that Facebook hasn't yet figured out how it's going to fight back. Yahoo, meanwhile, has clearly never heard the proverb "don't bite the hand that feeds you." This could get ugly.

See also:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Legal

About

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years, he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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