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Boing Boing & Slashdot On Flickr’s Patent Attempt

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Boing Boing: Flickr files a patent for “interestingness” Well a few weeks back I posted on Yahoo’s attempt to patent interestingness after reading a notice on the patent at Bill Slawksi’s excellent blog SEO by the Sea. And yesterday both Boing Boing and Slashdot picked up on the story as well.

Boing Boing quotes one of their readers Peter Rothman:

“I don’t think Flickr should be able to get a broad patent on “interestingness”. There’s a very large number of papers in the image processing and collaborative filtering areas that all define various notions of relevance, interestingness, salience, or novelty. A specific innovative technique might be patentable, but not the general idea of computing how interesting an image or media object is to a person or set of people.”

Another comment from Slashdot:

“Don’t you just love how many of these companies go about patenting an idea (or similar idea) that is already used by the masses. This is such a joke, next thing you know (providing the patent is upheld) Yahoo will start suing folks like Amazon and our beloved Slashdot for patent infringement. Most people wouldn’t even consider patenting something that is already, to some degree, “common knowledge”. I thought the whole purpose of patenting was to protect intellectual property that has yet to be implemented or conceived. Hmmmm…I guess I’m just totally wrong in that assumption.”

In more direct terms I would say that these patents suck the big one. It sucks both that Flickr thinks that they can “own” their user’s social activity and it sucks that they think that only they should be allowed to use the concept of harnessing community activity to highlight community work on a site.

Allowing a community to be editors and allowing interestingness (which is really popularity) to determine media promotion is a central feature seen on many different Web 2.0 sites. Digg uses their user input to determine their own version of interestingness (the digg front page). They use a proprietary algorithm that like Flickr’s is based on user activity. Reddit uses user input. Sites like YouTube and Odeo highlight popular content on their sites as well based on user input, activity, etc.

Flickr/Yahoo trying and “own” the concept of interestingness is a slap in the face to every other community that is being built outside of Yahoo! and it puts the threat of legal pressure on any non Yahoo! community.

This patent application also just goes to show you how absolutely clueless the U.S. Patent office actually is. The fact that they would allow a patent application like this to move forward when it is a fundamental tool used by so many other non Yahoo companies is absurd.

I could see Yahoo applying for trademark for their term interestingness as it applies to photo search. I could even see Yahoo trying to apply for a trademark over their exact specific mixture of an algorithm. (eg. 30% of the algorithm is faves, 22% of the algorithm are comments, 12% of the algorithm is tags, etc.). But to try and “own” the concept of non Yahoo communities organizing their content is just, well patently ridiculous.

I hope that Yahoo/Flickr does not succeed with this patent because it will put a chill in the air for every other content centered internet property on the Web. I can’t imagine that they will get away with this and I’m glad to see Boing Boing and Slashdot giving this story additional exposure.

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Thomas Hawk is a San Francisco based photographer and technology writer.
He publishes the web site Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection and is also
the Evangelist and CEO of the photo sharing site Zooomr.

Boing Boing & Slashdot On Flickr’s Patent Attempt
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