Dead Dutch Programmer Sues Facebook For Patent Violations

Facebook is no stranger to being sued, but a new lawsuit filed against the company this month might be the weirdest to date

As of February 5, Facebook is being sued by deceased Dutch programmer and apparent social web pioneer Joannes Jozef Everardus Van Der Meer, who passed away in 2004 - the year of Facebook's founding. The late Van Der Meer's justice will be sought by Rembrandt Social Media, the company that now owns his patents, and the law firm of Fish & Richardson. 

Thomas Edison's Legal Team v. Facebook

The lawsuit, filed in the state of Virginia's federal court, alleges that Facebook infringed upon two of Van Der Meer's patents. The first, U.S. Patent No. 6,415,316, introduced a "Method and apparatus for implementing a web page diary," which the suit will contend was a precursor to Timeline. The second, U.S. Patent No. 6,289,362outlined a "System and method for generating, transferring and using an annotated universal address," and has the Like button in its sights. The patents were filed in 1998 and issued to Van Der Meer in 2002 and 2001, respectively. So both pre-date the 2004 launch of Facebook. Social bookmarking company Add This is also being sued for violation of the second patent.

While it's hard to imagine that such a strange case will have much ground to stand on, Fish & Richardson has deep roots in intellectual property, counting Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers among its early clients. Facebook's legal team hasn't been around since 1878, but isn't exactly new to this sort of thing. (And hey, it's hiring - this might be a long one, after all.) 

Patent-holder Rembrandt claims that the patents "represent an important foundation of social media as we know it" and is seeking royalties on this so-called foundational knowledge until 2021.

Um, Surfbook?

According to Ars Technica, it gets even weirder. Around the time he filed the patents, Van Der Meer also owned www.surfbook.com, though what he intended to do with the domain is a mystery. According to a Whois search, surfbook.com is now owned by brand protection group MarkMonitor. 

The IP claim on "web page diaries" would seem to have some big implications for pretty much the whole internet. Besides, some of us were already avidly documenting what we had for lunch on sites like Open Diary and LiveJournal in the internet dark age of 1999, back when Timeline was only a twinkle in Zuckerberg's eye. 

Image of Mark Zuckerberg by Taylor Hatmaker