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Yahoo! threatens! Facebook! with! patent! spanking!

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Like certain other tech companies that have failed to keep up with rivals' innovations, Yahoo! is resorting to a patent battle to top up its revenues.

The web firm is trying to persuade Facebook to license ten to 20 of its patents that deal with advertising, personalisation of web pages, social networking and messaging, people briefed with the matter leaked to the New York Times.

The two companies were apparently chatting about the issue on Monday, when Yahoo! told Facebook that the social network was infringing these patents and it better pay up or Yahoo! would see it in court! Or words to that effect.

“Yahoo! has a responsibility to its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders to protect its intellectual property,” a Yahoo! spokesman told the NYT. “We must insist that Facebook either enter into a licensing agreement or we will be compelled to move forward unilaterally to protect our rights.”

Facebook is not impressed by Yahoo!, judging by this catty statement to El Reg:

Yahoo! contacted us at the same time they called the New York Times and so we haven't had the opportunity to fully evaluate their claims.

The smartphone and fondleslab sectors have been rocked by patent battles as big manufacturers and OS builders grab as much of the lucrative market as possible. But social networking has until now been blessedly free of legal machinations.

Yahoo! has been pretty hard-up for the last few years, eating Google and upstart web firms' dust as its popularity waned, particularly in the US. The web firm has been pursuing a number of options to try to turn itself around, including selling all or some of itself off.

Of course, if Yahoo! could squeeze a load of money out of Facebook and other social networks in patent licences or legal damages for infringement, it might not need to sell itself off, which would be a much happier situation for it.

But it's a pretty nasty time to be springing this on Facebook, since the social network is unlikely to want to get into a litigation battle right before it goes public, an event that's expected in the next few weeks. ®

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