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Background:

US Patent 7,853,881 Multi-user on-line real-time virtual social networks based upon communities of interest for entertainment, information or e-commerce purposes

Earlier this year a company called "Real Time Social Inventions LLC" filed suit in Delaware against Yammer, Salesforce, Facebook and five other defendants. Facebook requested a reexamination of the '881 patent with the USPTO. The Delaware case was stayed pending the disposition of the reexamination, which is ongoing now.

If additional prior art were found it could be considered now, during the reexamination process, and could be submitted by a third party.

The Request

Prior art from 2006 or earlier which might be relevant to any claim of the patent.

Why?

A Reexamination is a process whereby a third party (or inventor) can have a patent reexamined by a patent examiner to verify that the subject matter it claims is patentable. When a patent is placed in Reexamination in the USPTO during litigation in the US district court it very often results in a motion by the defendant to stay pending litigation. District Judges will often issue an order to stay pending litigation while the USPTO completes the reexamination process on the patents in the case (as the judge did in this case). Plaintiffs generally dislike this because it slows down litigation and drives up their cost. In addition it is potentially a catastrophic result for the plaintiff's case if the patent is determined to be invalid by the USPTO.

The Case

Real Time Social Inventions LLC v. Facebook Inc.
1-12-cv-00185 Filed 2/14/12 (Happy Valentine's Day?)
District of Delaware (Wilmington)

Patent(s): 7,853,881 by Hoyle
Title: Multi-user on-line real-time virtual social networks based upon communities of interest for entertainment, information or e-commerce purposes
Abstract:

"In a multi-user online real-time network in which users access content associated with a plurality of social networks related by common communities of interest, an interactor client application is embedded in content pages accessed by a user, and the user is provided a list of other users and the content pages in the related social networks that they are accessing. The inteactor client application cooperates with an interactor server application on a network server to enable a user to view the content being accessed by multiple selected ones of the other users, and to interact with the other users online and in real time. "

"The invention affords methods and systems that enable a user to find out particular information, content or products of interest by interacting with any of the members of a social network that share the same interest, or that are connected to the user through a known set of the social network members, or because of the activity they are engaged in, or content they are viewing at a given time."

Issue Date: Dec 14, 2010
Priority Date: US2006836273P / Aug 8, 2006 /

Independent Claims

Claim 1. 1. A method of interacting in real-time with online users accessible through a computer network, comprising:

  • accessing by a first user a first real-time social network comprising a community of members having a specific predetermined common interest, the first real-time social network being within an interactor zone that includes one or a logical collection of related real-time social networks, the first user accessing the first real-time social network using an interactor client application that allows the first user to communicate in real-time with other online users who are members of said first or another one of said real-time social networks;
  • displaying in real-time to the first user identities of other users who are online at the time and who are members of the first or another one of said real-time social networks within said interactor zone and who choose to be identifiable; and
  • enabling using the interactor client application real-time interaction by the first user with said selected ones of said other online users.

Claim 17. A method of real-time online interacting with users logged on to social networks in a computer network, the social networks being part of an interactor zone that includes one or a logical collection of related real-time social networks, comprising:

  • accessing by a first user a first real-time social network in said interactor zone using an interactor client application that allows the first user to communicate in real-time with other online users who are members of said first or another one of said real-time social networks;

  • displaying in real-time to the first user a list of other users who are online at the time and are accessing social networks within said interactor zone which meet predetermined criteria established by the first user, said displaying comprising displaying content pages being accessed by said other users who choose to be identifiable;

  • selecting by the first user for interaction selected ones of said other users based upon the content of the content pages; and

  • enabling real-time interaction by said client application between said first user and said selected ones of said other users.

Disclosure/disclaimer I have no financial relationship with either defendants or plaintiff in this case. I have not read the patent except to copy and paste the claim and abstract above. I am curious about whether AskPatents can be used to find prior art for patents in recently-filed litigation.

Please answer with any references to possible prior art OR interpretation of claims of the '881 patent

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8 Answers

Another direction would be IRC, which dates from 1988, and the IRC web URL dates from 2003.

Fortunately, the authors of the patent define the terms:

"Social Network: Is a community of members or other individuals that share similar values or interests. Each member typically comes with a personal profile, which may contain demographics, psychographics or professional information. Each member may have no, a single, or a plurality of connections or relationships with other members within the social network. Each member may engage in activities, such as email communications, information sharing, etc., with other members. These individuals may grow the social network community by inviting others to connect to their community. A social network also includes individuals who engage in some common real-time activities online and share some common context. This includes, but is not limit to, shopping at the same online e-merchant website, browsing the same or related content pages, engaging in an online event or activities at the same time. A social network may extend to activities and individuals engaging in activities around a web page or an object referred to by such a web page. As used herein, the term "users" includes members, guest members, and others accessing a social network, and the term "social" is used in broadest sense to refer to communities of interest."

and

"Interactor Zone (or Network): FIG. 3c shows a graphical representation of an interactor zone 330. An interactor zone is an organization of a logical collection of pages within which users may interact in a collection of related real-time social networks. As will be explained, any content page 304 (or 100-154 of FIGS. 1a-1f) may include an embedded interactor client software application, also referred to as an interactor console that enables on-line real-time access to social networks and interaction with other users. The non-inclusion of such an application does not exclude a page from an interactor zone. A content page may be mapped to only one interactor zone."

and, since this definition refers to "pages" and "content pages":

"Content: Any material such as text, graphics, video or/and audio delivered to a user online (Internet or any other network) through a website."

So, the term "Social Network", most broadly, can refer to any collection of identifiable users, one instance of which is the collection of users who can log into a given UNIX system (including, anonymously).

The term "Interactor Zone" refers to a "content page" which is on a "website". One could argue that a UNIX terminal is itself capable of being a provider of "content" (though it is not a "website", which is simply an obvious extension). The "finger:" URL scheme was first proposed in 1995 by Paul Hoffman (http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-uri-url-finger-00), and

So, basically all you need is a URL scheme that allows a web page to link to some kind of chat client.

The "irc:" URL scheme was proposed in October 2003 by Simon Butcher, http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-butcher-irc-url-00. This link http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Codev/RenderIrcAsURL suggests that Twiki implemented the URL scheme in November 2003.

The "im:" URL scheme was proposed in August 2004 by J. Peterson (http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc3860.txt)

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I do like the IRC reference from carmogy. I do believe however that the BBS is quite directly related here. For me this patent just sounds like a message board with presence awareness.

From Wikipedia MajorBBS article:

MBBS software was known for fostering online communities and an interactive online experience where users were able to interact with each other via Teleconference (chat rooms) and multiplayer games. This flexibility spawned a small industry of Independent Software Vendors (ISV) who began developing MBBS add-ons, which ranged from shopping malls (what would now be called shopping cart software) to online role playing games.

Prior art is not as old as IRC, but MajorBBS is from 1986, so still quite old enough.

EDIT: just realized IRC didn't come until 1988, so this is even prior to that.

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This AT&T patent seems VERY similar, although maybe too new:

Interactive community of interest profile

US 7970111 B2

ABSTRACT

A system for generating and working with communities of interests is disclosed. In various forms, the present system allows multiple users sharing common interests to interact with each other seamlessly, seek out times when each is available, and other such convenience functions.

Disclosure: found by pasting claims on Searcher.io, a patent search tool I'm involved with

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Another interesting older patent, overlapping with claim 1, and also filed in September 2006 (social network birth date?):

Systems and methods for discovering, creating, using, and managing social network circuits

US 7801971 B1

ABSTRACT

A social network circuit includes two or more members of a social network in live communication with one another. Systems and methods of administering social network circuits include computing devices configured to determine the existence and extent of social network circuits. Client applications associated with computing devices used by each member may be configured to provide one or more servers with session data indicating the existence of live communication links. Based on the session data, the server(s) may track one or more social network circuits. Data representing the circuits may be provided to the clients in the circuits. Clients may selectively participate in social network circuits based on user- and system-provided parameters. For example, a subset of social network users in active communication may be further divided into a particular social network circuit devoted to a particular topic of discussion. Users may participate in multiple social network circuits at any given time.

Disclosure: found by pasting claims on Searcher.io, a patent search tool I'm involved with

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Looks like a patent on Usenet, which was established in 1980. Usenet provides a huge list of topics of interest, to a social network of subscribers, provides "pages" (i.e. articles) to subscribers based on their interests (Interactor zone), handles almost every type of content, and is carried over the internet.

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This is exactly what I was thinking. Usenet was the first "social network" I interacted with via their "interactor" definition - or any other for that measure. –  Hotrodmonkey Jul 24 '13 at 18:11
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On claim 1, it seems to me that you might be able to satisfy all the elements with the UNIX operating system, particularly with the talk and finger programs. "talk" dates from around 1970, and "finger" from 1971. A similar direction would be to look at many online BBSes or CompuServe/AOL, which usually had similar features. It all depends on how you define "real-time social network" and "interactor zone".

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Fellow students at my college had an online conferencing system dating back to around 1980 called CB. The second version called connect was available in the early 80's and allowed multiple 'chat rooms', the ability to store/retrieve user profiles and other information. The current incarnation is lily with even more features. I think that connect and/or lily meet some or all of the requirements for prior art. There was a brief system called clover created when connect was given 30 days to get off university computing. The latest version of the server is now a sourceforge project, http://sourceforge.net/projects/lilycore/

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The First International Backgammon Server (1992), in conjunction with the FIBS/W windows application, which provided a graphical user interface for the FIBS server (1994?, but definitely prior to 1995).

I am the author of FIBS/W, last updated in 1995, not sure of the original release date -- probably 1994. Definitely possible to find substantiating evidence for first existence of FIBS/W prior to 1995, if that's necessary. See http://www.fibs.com/connecting.html for proof of the last update date (1995).

Also the CyberArts Inc. games servers, which date to 1995 or 1996 (not sure), and provided considerably more evolved user interfaces.

Citing for FIBS/W windows client, when connect to the FIBS backgammon server. Definitely constitutes prior art for Claim 1. Also possibly claim 17 as well, depending on how "content page" is interpreted.

Claim 1:

accessing by a first user a first real-time social network comprising a community of members having a specific predetermined common interest, the first real-time social network being within an interactor zone that includes one or a logical collection of related real-time social networks the first user accessing the first real-time social network using an interactor client application that allows the first user to communicate in real-time with other online users who are members of said first or another one of said real-time social networks;

Initial connection to the FIBS server via FIBS/W provides a list of connected users, and a chat area to to communicate with anyone who's connected.

displaying in real-time to the first user identities of other users who are online at the time and who are members of the first or another one of said real-time social networks within said interactor zone and who choose to be identifiable; and

The FIBS/W client provides a list of users who aare online when connecting. Uses can chat with each other, or invite other users to play matches.

enabling using the interactor client application real-time interaction by the first user with said selected ones of said other online users.

Once connected, FIBS/W users can invite other users to play a game or match of backgammon. Users go to a "room" where they play a graphically rendered backgammon game. Users can elect to watch (and comment on) matches in progress. All in "realtime", of course.

Claim 17:

which meet predetermined criteria established by the first user

The FIBS server assigns ratings based on the history of won and lost games and matches. FIBS/W users can choose to view only players within a selected range of ratings.

said displaying comprising displaying content pages being accessed by said other users who choose to be identifiable

Not sure what's meant by "pages of content" here. FIBS/W allows users to join the session of a match in progress, in order to watch and/or comment on the game in progress, in a chat window associated with the game board. If a "match in progress" constitutes a "content page", then FIBS, and FIBS/W hit claim 17 as well.

In addition, the FIBS server provided basic user profile information, which could be displayed as a "content page" within the FIBS/W backgammon client.

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