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Google, Facebook cop for preposterous patent potshot

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Gathering information from around the internet and presenting it on a mobile phone is protected by patent, according to Wireless Ink, which is suing Google and Facebook over it.

The patent covers the aggregation of information for presentation to interested individuals on a mobile phone, and was granted in October last year having been filed back in 2003 when Winksite (the brand operated by Wireless Ink) started offering such a service for free.

Winksite allows users to create identikit mobile sites which contain data gathered from RSS feeds, and "community message" boards. Winksite claims 75,000 users, but a quick browse of its existing customer base shows lots of communities with just the one member and very few showing any notable activity.

But the company does have a US patent on a content management system that enables "the user to enter information in accordance with a specified format comprising a plurality of selectable mobile information channels... The entered information is processed to generate for the user a mobile site comprising information content".

One might imagine than any mobile RSS client would also be in breach, but the details include server-side aggregation, and the facility for a user to create a community of interested people. As the patent explains: "A given mobile site may be shared by a group of members having a common interest. The mobile site may comprise, for example, a collaborative workspace, a data mailbox, a collaborative community, or other similar element(s)."

So Google Buzz and Facebook groups would certainly seem to fall foul of the patent, as it stands, but you can be sure that neither company is going to take this lying down. "This suit is without merit and we will fight it vigorously," Facebook told the Wall Street Journal. ®

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