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Looking at Snapchat's patent Ephemeral message galleries it would seem, at least superficially, that vanishing status updates on WhatsApp do exactly what this patent protects. I copy the relevant portion of the first claim below:

  1. A server, comprising:

    a processor; and

    a memory storing instructions executed by the processor to: maintain an ephemeral gallery comprising a plurality of ephemeral messages posted by a user for viewing by one or more recipients, wherein each of the ephemeral messages comprises a photograph or a video, the maintaining of the ephemeral gallery comprising making the ephemeral gallery available for viewing, upon request, via respective user devices associated with the one or more recipients;

    for each of the plurality of ephemeral messages, maintain an associated message duration parameter that indicates a display duration for the corresponding ephemeral message during viewing of the ephemeral gallery, and

    maintain a gallery participation parameter that indicates a time value for continued availability of the corresponding ephemeral message in the ephemeral gallery;

    responsive to receiving an ephemeral gallery view request from one of the one or more recipients, cause automated sequential display of the plurality of ephemeral messages on a corresponding user device by performance of operations comprising:

    starting a message timer when viewing of one of the plurality of the ephemeral messages is commenced,

    determining that the message timer expires when the message timer equals the corresponding display duration,

    responsive to expiry of the message timer, displaying a next one of the plurality of ephemeral messages in the ephemeral gallery, and repeating the starting, determining, and displaying operations until all ephemeral messages in the ephemeral gallery are viewed;

    remove a particular one of the plurality ephemeral messages from the ephemeral gallery in response to the identification of an expired gallery participation parameter corresponding to the particular ephemeral message, the particular ephemeral message after removal thereof being unavailable for recipient viewing as part of the ephemeral gallery; and

    eliminate the ephemeral gallery so that the ephemeral gallery is unavailable for viewing responsive to any recipient request, the ephemeral gallery being eliminated upon expiration of either a gallery timer or upon expiration of the gallery participation parameter of a last message in the ephemeral gallery, the last message being that one of the plurality of ephemeral messages which was posted to the ephemeral gallery last.

From what I see on WhatsApp, they effectively do all of it.

Do they actually not (and my reading of the patent is erroneous) or could there be other reasons Snapchat is okay having its patents infringed by the same entity that seems well poised to crush it?

  • Do you have a specific WhatsApp patent you can reference? – Eric Shain Sep 11 '17 at 13:32
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    Thanks, that is an application. I fixed your link to the actual granted patent. Claims are what is important and the granted patents usually has narrower claims than the application. – Eric Shain Sep 11 '17 at 13:43
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    I edited in the granted claim from the US application. See here for information about the difference between (PCT) applications (what you linked) and granted patents (what eric linked): patents.stackexchange.com/q/17115/18033 – DonQuiKong Sep 11 '17 at 13:44
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    @DonQuiKong I was still drinking my morning coffee... – Eric Shain Sep 11 '17 at 13:49
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    @DonQuiKong thanks a lot for looking up the actually granted patent. And that other answer detailing the differences. I'm gonna remember to double check what google spits out. – Yogesch Sep 11 '17 at 14:03
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Let's first pardon my impertinence to answer my own question in an area where my knowledge is only cursory.

The patent application of Snapchat was what might be construed as overly broad and most, if not all, of the functionality of WhatsApp's feature of ephemeral status updates infringe upon it.

But the actually granted patent significantly narrowed those claims down to the very specific implementation of Snapchat stories. In particular:

... responsive to receiving an ephemeral gallery view request from one of the one or more recipients, cause automated sequential display of the plurality of ephemeral ...

WhatsApp doesn't automatically display the messages sequentially. The user has to manually select each for viewing. So, no infringement.

Of course this does raise the interesting concern of 1) whether the patent office(r) checked out the Snapchat app, understood what it was all about, then narrowed the patent claims down to that particular implementation. And 2) if Snapchat hadn't actually implemented it, might they have been granted the patent they'd applied for, I.e the ephemeral messages format in general. Since there'd have been no implementation, the whole ephemerality business could have been considered a specific implementation of mobile messages, rather than its own generic format.

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    That's probably a patent for the snapchat stories. In my opinion, learning and answering ones own question is no impertinence. – DonQuiKong Sep 11 '17 at 14:32
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    Answering your own question is fine, so long as it isn't just a ploy to bump your reputation. If I were more social media savvy I might have tried answering, but I'm too old... – Eric Shain Sep 11 '17 at 16:35
  • @DonQuiKong yes and that's the key bit of difference/learning as I now realize: the granted patent is for Snapchat stories, or something very close. But the patent application was for almost the entire general format of ephemeral messages. – Yogesch Sep 12 '17 at 4:04
  • Imho you should accept this answer, I don't think there's another one coming soon ;) – DonQuiKong Sep 12 '17 at 8:09
  • So I did. One isn't allowed to accept one's own answer until a couple of days have elapsed. This policy probably has to do with the point raised by @EricShain about it being a ploy to boost one's reputation. – Yogesch Sep 14 '17 at 2:36

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