VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

Summary: Some experts, including VMware CEO Paul Maritz, believe Facebook will have to fight a patent war if it doesn't soon take the proper defensive measures.

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Relatively new Web companies such as Facebook don't hold many patents and could soon face data-center-related legal battles. VMware CEO Paul Maritz, who has witnessed a number of patent skirmishes in the 1990s when he was at Microsoft, believes that many patent confrontations are coming, and Facebook may find itself in the midst.

Quickly-growing services like Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, and Groupon have so far avoided becoming casualties in the ongoing patent wars, which have centered on mobile devices, but the honeymoon may not last. "When the continents shift and new players come into a space, it results in an unstable situation," Maritz told Business Week. "If you want to be a permanent fixture of the landscape, you better get some defense."

Social media websites have weak patent portfolios: Facebook has only 12 patents to its name, while the totals for the other guys range from zero to two each, according to filings with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Google was in a similar position earlier this year: it had far fewer mobile-related patents than its competitors. Last month, the search giant ended up buying Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents for $12.5 billion.

Martiz believes newer Web companies may ultimately have to do something similarly drastic as well. Older technology companies such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft maintain rich patent portfolios covering essential technologies used by the new guys, including database and file-management applications. Facebook and its other smaller cousins have so far been using free, open-source software and while so far the big guys have had little motivation to target the open-source products with lawsuits, this could quickly change. As we've recently seen, the open-source label didn't save Google's Android operating system.

Facebook will likely have to do more than just develop more patents to bolster its own portfolio. The social networking giant may have to stat signing cross-licensing deals with the bigger firms. Since Facebook doesn't have many patents to offer itself, it could be a one-way deal where the company forks over a lot of cash in return for patent protection.

Facebook has at least one assurance that the other younger guys do not: Microsoft. Almost four years ago, Redmond invested $240 million in Palo Alto. Ever since then, the two companies have been best friends and have worked together on many different products. As such, I doubt Microsoft would file a patent lawsuit against Facebook.

On the other hand, Facebook also has a very big enemy: Google. The search giant made some of its database work public and many companies, including Facebook, used this information to build their own data-center technologies. Maybe Google will do more to Facebook than just push competitors like Google+: Mountain View could take Palo Alto to court one day.

See also:

Topics: Data Centers, Legal, Open Source, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

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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10 comments
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  • I have my reservations

    I can see Google being the petulant little kid that does not understand why the other kids don't want to play with its +1, but what basis is there for a patent claim? comments? likes? lists? There is nothing that Facebook offers that does not already exist as prior art.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

      @facebook@... <br><br>that you know of.....<br><br>What about how it operates in the background? As he mentioned, data storage, handling, archiving etc etc. If these are bespoke systems that they have built by copying other people then they could be in trouble in the future.<br><br>But as also pointed out, MS will back FB all the way, as they are extremely integrated these days (bing likes, Skype chat).<br><br>If worst came to worst, MS would buy FB and just laugh at the law suites.
      daniejam10
      • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

        @daniejam10

        Isn't this possibility why Facebook started the Open Compute project for data centers? Not that it guarantees against lawsuits, still, it kind of spread around many folks, who can be expected to join Facebook defense if attacked.
        mm71
    • very hypothetical

      @facebook@...
      Very, very hypothetical. When did Google use patents in a aggressive way? It should probably being bought first as Sun that also promised to not use some patents in an aggressive way.
      I think the talk is about patent trolls or big companies that in the past already did use patent litigation to protect their markets.
      somereader
    • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

      @facebook@... I see you as a petulant child.
      Nathan A Smith
  • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

    I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37" HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use C o o l C e n t. c o m
    chrizz123
  • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

    If these are bespoke systems that they have built by copying other people then they could be in trouble in the future.<a href="http://sazkove-kancelaree.cz">sazkove tipy</a> Hi to all
    marco5811
  • If Google made their work public and free to use for all,

    they can not just turn around and hope to win in court by claiming "we changed our mind".<br><br>I do understand that Google+ is not being adopted to the level that they may have hoped, and that taking Facebook to court in an attempt close them down may be the only way that people will use Google's services, but I do not believe they could do so "after the fact" of allowing Facebook and others the right to use their work.<br><br>That would be like Linus making the anouncement that everyone using Linux must now pay him for the right to use it, or to cease using it immediately.
    Tim Cook
  • sustainable

    Yes, first the biggest company's register and buy patents, then somewhat smaller, then medium company's. Small ones and startup's of course can not. They may just hope being bought by the big ones before litigation starts.

    Bye, bye innovation.

    This system is of course not economically sustainable. Only countries that would not make it to easy for a US company to sue a local one for products sold in that country will create on opportunity to grow enough to compete on a international scale.

    No new US (EU) ICT industry.

    Until that comedy ends, big players may indeed have to decide if they want to buy patents to survive for a limited time. And how much money they would spend on software patents that anyhow have a small change to survive a serious prior art search.

    And in the mean time we, the consumers, pay for that joke.
    somereader
  • RE: VMware CEO: Facebook will also have to fight a patent war soon

    Geeeee.
    Concentrating on Google (who have not sued anyone so far!!!!) and ignoring whole industry of patent trolls is just awesome! New much better ways of journalism, I supose. ;)

    Come one! Big boys do not sue, they have enought patents so they just sign off cross license agreements or buy out newcomers. The problem is those companies which sole purpose of existence is to file patents suits!
    And you can not do a thing to defend from then other than pay them cash (costly) or invalidate their patents (costly and time consuming).
    przemoli