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Yahoo Is a Patent Troll Now

Yahoo is claiming that Facebook stole its entire "social network model," and they're hoping for a payday. This isn't a good look, guys!

Last updated on March 13, 2012, at 10:38 a.m. ET

Posted on March 13, 2012, at 10:38 a.m. ET

Lawsuits like this give tech patents — a huge and mostly invisible influence on the tech we use— a bad name. Yahoo has sued Facebook over ten patents, all of which are iffy at best.

There's a claim about "enabling a user to preview display of selected content," which seems to be about any and all privacy settings. There's one about "optimum placement of ads," describes how the entire internet uses ads. There's the one about a "method for instant messaging using an e-mail protocol," which is about instant messaging — all of it. (Venturebeat's got a great rundown of the rest here.) This is unmistakably trollish behavior: the sudden and suspiciously timed exploitation of the mountains of vague, ineffectual patents that web companies habitually and sometimes even accidentally collect over the years. There's a reason this didn't happen before Facebook filed for its IPO.

Easily the most bizarre claim in the whole thing, though, is where Yahoo claims to have invented Facebook. It's Winklevossian:

How, exactly? Something to do with Yahoo! Mash (???), and Flickr:


Yahoo is doing this because it worked once before, during Google's IPO: The company was given 2.7m shares of Google stock, which would today be worth about $1.7b. In this case, though, Yahoo's claims seem far more tenuous. There was a time when Yahoo was the most popular search engine; there was never a time when Yahoo was taken seriously as a social network.

Of course, people are calling them on it. VC Fred Wilson posted some tough words on his blog, calling the patents "a crock of shit." That's to be expected — Wilson invests in new web companies, and Yahoo is as old as they come. This, to him, is bullying, trolling, or both.

But this fight isn't just about old internet vs. new. Nope:

Twitter: @erichippeau

This guy sat on Yahoo's board for 15 years, starting in 1996. Yikes.

(h/t to Kara Swisher)