Google, Facebook lose social network patent ruling

CHICAGO Fri May 27, 2011 2:37pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Google Inc and Facebook Inc failed to win dismissal of a lawsuit by a New York company related to software designed to let people take part on social networks through their mobile phones.

Wireless Ink Corp, which runs the Winksite service, may pursue claims that Google Buzz and Facebook Mobile infringed its October 2009 patent, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan wrote in a ruling made public on Friday.

The patent related to a method to help novice mobile phone users create mobile websites that other phone users can see. Wireless Ink is seeking a halt to the alleged infringement, and compensatory and triple damages.

Jeremy Pitcock, a lawyer for Wireless Ink, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Facebook and Google did not immediately return requests for comment.

According to an amended complaint filed in December, Wireless Ink's application for its so-called '983 patent became public in January 2004.

It said this was three years before Facebook, the world's most popular social networking website, launched its first mobile website, and six years before Google launched Buzz to compete with Facebook.

"If two of the most resource-rich, patent-savvy and technologically advanced companies leading the Internet were not aware of the '983 patent, despite its potential ramifications upon a major segment of the defendants' business," Wireless Ink wrote, "this was solely due to a deliberate indifference on the part of defendants."

Wireless Ink said Winksite had more than 75,000 registered users, while Facebook Mobile has tens of millions of users, and Google said tens of millions of people had "checked Buzz out" in the service's first two days.

In his ruling, Castel said Wireless Ink "does not allege any facts that are inconsistent with the existence of a viable claim." He also dismissed counterclaims seeking to invalidate the Wireless Ink patent.

Facebook is based in Palo Alto, California, and Google in Mountain View, California.

Analysts now generally consider Google Buzz a failure. Google raised privacy concerns when it at first used email lists from users' Gmail accounts to build social networks of Buzz contacts. It later changed the settings so that Gmail contacts are kept private by default.

The case is Wireless Ink Corp v. Facebook Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-01841.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Chang)

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