The button is an integral part of the social network is now the subject of a legal challenge in the US with a claim that Facebook has violated certain patent rights. The case has been brought by a firm called Rembrandt Social Media that says it owns two patents that it accuses Facebook of infringing.
In its lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Virginia, the firm says it came into possession of the patents following the death of Dutch programmer Joannes Jozef Everardus van Der Meer.
Rembrandt says that Van Der Meer was granted the patents as far back as 1998 and long before anyone had heard of the term “social networking” and almost six years before Facebook was founded.
Van Der Meer is said to have incorporated the patents into his own social networking site, which was called Surfbook.
Surfbook was described as a social diary and was being worked on in 2004, which is also the year that Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook whilst still at Harvard University.
Surfbook allowed people to share information with friends and family and users could okay some data by using a “like” button, according to legal papers filed. Although it was never fully developed as Van Der Meer died in 2004.
Rembrandt has also launched legal action against social bookmarking service AddThis.
Unsurprisingly, Rembrandt has been accused of being a “patent troll”. These are businesses set up to do little else but gather royalties from patents.
Considering how long the “like button” has been with us, and the timing of this case, it is easy to see why people might say this.
Rembrandt chairman Paul Schneck, said: “Years before Facebook and AddThis, Jos van der Meer conceived of and patented core aspects of social media. Facebook and AddThis are using the ideas disclosed in Jos’ patents without permission or payment. Through this litigation, Rembrandt Social Media hopes to recover payment for the unauthorized usage of patents by Facebook and AddThis.”
The legal papers filed say that Facebook “bears a remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation, to the personal web page diary that Van Der Meer had invented years earlier”.
Tom Melsheimer, of law firm Fish and Richardson and representing Rembrandt, said: “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.”
For Facebook, which is not commenting, the case has echoes of the long running legal battle that fellow Harvard students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss filed against Facebook after accusing founder and CEO Zuckerberg of stealing the concept and certain source code for a project they asked him to work on called HarvardConnect (ConnectU).