Intellectual property protection of marketplace platforms

Intellectual property protection (through patents) is always under scrutiny, and especially software patents. I started looking into “marketplace patents” recently and found a very confused and scattered landscape. Most of the patent applications are from 2001/2002 and some as recent as 2006. Even if you look at “Social Media” related patents there seems to be many overlaps between these types of patents.

I particularly like this patent by Yahoo: “An improved system and method for selecting and visualizing object metadata evolving over time is provided.” Have a look at Yahoo Pipes and you might get a glimpse of the configurability of web mash-ups (I will cover this at a later stage).

Look at this application from Sun Microsystems: “The invention provides a flexible, extensible and customizable architecture for supporting e-commerce applications. The system allows the integration of extensible modules with a software bus providing access to common e-commerce services. Thus, the invention eliminates the need for creating a custom architecture for supporting desired services.”

prosper1.jpgThen look at this application by Hip Consult: “An apparatus and method for transferring money or value, using a wide range of interfaces to initiate a transfer and a wide range of options for receiving the transfer, including receiving the transferred sum directly to the communication device/account of the receiver. The receiver can use the transferred sum as an airtime credit, to obtain cash or to pay for other goods or services.” I am quite intrigued by this application as it seems to overlap with so many of the full service banks today; not even to mention the emergent social on-line banking platforms like Prosper (to learn more look at Doc Prosper).

Have a look at this presentation by Chris Larsen from Prosper:

Prosper has an interesting angle as they allow you to download all their public data to perform analysis if you are an academic. Their Tools site allows you to download gigabytes of detailed data. They have an application for “Networked loan market and lending management system” patent. Does this mean that entrepreneurs wanting to enter this kind of business model are discouraged?

Where does this leave the inventor or entrepreneur wanting to start something new in the social network, social banking, networked platform, or any related concepts? Some tips before you embark on your community building project:
1. Have your community designed with the basic rules worked out.
2. Define the “emergent” properties and attributes that might change as you learn how to implement.
3. Have you tracking criteria worked out to define success in scope of usage and not scale (especially if your community is small).
4. Do a patent search for the concept you are about to develop; and be ready for a surprise as the multitude of patents either registered (or where applications have been filed) are vast.
5. Either rethink your model OR track down the patent owner and start negotiating.
6. Do nothing and miss the rush and create the next big thing…

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