Patent application | "Mark Zuckerberg Finally Wins Approval of First Patent Application"

By: John Letzing
Category: Patent News

Back in the summer of 2006, when Facebook Inc. was still a budding social network available only to college students, then 22-year-old Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg filed an application for a patent that covers a way for Internet users to select privacy settings. Last week, that patent was finally approved following initial rejections by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to public records.

The patent, for “dynamically generating a privacy summary,” credits both Mr. Zuckerberg and former Facebook executive Chris Kelly as inventors. Mr. Kelly left his post as chief privacy officer at the company in 2009 and later made an unsuccessful bid as candidate for California Attorney General, ultimately losing in the Democratic primary to Kamala Harris.

According to public documents, the patent covers a way of accessing a user profile and selecting different privacy options, much the way that Facebook’s users can now opt to share or hide items like email addresses from various contacts. The patent office wasn’t impressed with the invention at first, handing Messrs. Zuckerberg and Kelly a series of rejections over the years that complained of vagueness and the obvious nature of the invention.

A phone conversation between Facebook’s legal counsel and the patent examiner followed this April, according to the documents, and in June the office let the company know the patent was projected to issue this month.

Such back-and-forth between the patent office and applicants before a patent is awarded is commonplace. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment.

The recently-awarded patent is not Mr. Zuckerberg’s first. The young CEO has been named as an inventor on eight different U.S. patents, according to public records.

Facebook pressed its case on Mr. Zuckerberg’s first invention perhaps partly due to its recent initiative to stock up on as much intellectual property as possible as it wades further into the dangerous world of high-tech patent disputes. In its paperwork for its initial public offering in May, Facebook said it had 774 U.S. patents and 546 applications as of March. The company may update those figures when it reports quarterly results this Thursday.

One of Mr. Zuckerberg’s other patents was used to counter-sue Yahoo Inc. in April. Yahoo had filed a high-profile suit against its younger peer, alleging infringement of ten patents. The companies have since settled the matter with no money changing hands.

Also in April, Facebook said it would pay $550 million to Microsoft Corp. for some of the patents the software giant recently bought from AOL Inc.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s new patent approval was earlier reported by blogs such as ReadWriteWeb.