Interesting article in the New York Times today about Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Mark Pincus of Tribe, who purchased the so-called “Six Degrees patent” from YouthStream Media Networks for $700,000. It’s clearly a defensive move, since neither of these guys is dumb enough to think they can turn a patent into business model; the question is whether they will turn this kind of tax on their own innovations on social networking into a resource the can bind social networks together through some common interfaces for sharing data.
Thing is, they could use the patent as a tool for slowing others down or they could put it into the public domain, where it belongs, and use it to spur this little industry along. I’m of the same mind as Anthony Brydon of Visible Path (though not because I think they have better technology), who told the Times: “I think we’re going to find that many of the things being protected today are completely irrelevant a year from now.”
The value of the patent will certainly vanish if Hoffman and Pincus keep the patent in their back pocket and the smart move is to take that $700,000 investment and turn it into a standards investment that keeps the industry running along the same tracks LinkedIn and Tribe follow.