"First!" Facebook was awarded a broad patent on location based social networking today and observers wonder what it will mean to upstart innovators in the sector. Erik Sherman caught the patent and reported on it over at CBS's BNet today.

Hopefully the patent is just defensive and will never be used aggressively. That's by far the most likely way things will go, as Facebook owns the entire universe already and has, as far as I know, never used any of its long list of social media patents aggressively. Why should it? The company has barely done anything in location and is already, as Mark Zuckerberg pointed out in today's unrelated announcement, the biggest location based networking provider online by far.

It's obnoxious that software like this can be patented, but it would be a big surprise if a company made up of engineering geeks busy printing money went to the trouble of demanding licensing fees on such a questionably defensible patent, allegedly used by such small competitors. Facebook saw New York based Hot Potato, a check-in app that included places, things, TV shows, books and more and what did it do? It bought the company and put its leadership in charge of the big New Groups feature launched today.

Facebook does some nefarious stuff, mostly based in a cavalier attitude about privacy and cultural engineering, but doing something as slimy as hitting a startup over the head with a patent like this would be far outside the company's character.

The patent, called Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members, was filed for in 2007. The patent office is clearly broken; the internet has moved so far ahead since the time this patent was filed that it just looks absurd.

One key part of what's patented:

A method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location, the method executed by a computer system and comprising: receiving location information and status information from a mobile device of a first user of the social networking service, the location information representing a geographic location of the first user, the status information manually provided by the first user on an input module of the mobile device; associating the location information with the status information of the first user in a database; and sending the status information and the location information of the first user to a second user for display.

A server that captures your location and status, then shares it with someone else for display? Maybe there was a time that was non-obvious, maybe that wasn't an inevitable invention. But for goodness sake, that would be a terrible thing to see restricted to companies able to pay licensing fees to Facebook. I'm not too worried about that happening, though.