Facebook sued by Dutch programmer's family over 'Like' button

The programmer, who died in 2004, was granted two U.S. patents for an early social networking system

Facebook is being sued by the family of a deceased Dutch programmer who held two patents dealing with sharing and updating social media content long before the social networking site launched.

The suit, filed Feb. 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, also names AddThis, a social bookmarking services that was an early partner of Facebook. The lawsuit alleges Facebook's "Like" button and other content-sharing features infringe on the patents.

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The patents in question were granted in 2001 and 2002 to Joannes Jozef Everardus Van Der Meer, a computer scientist. Van Der Meer had reserved the domain name "surfbook.com" for what he termed a "personal diary" system, according to the lawsuit.

Van Der Meer formed a company called AIdministrator Nederland, known as Aduna, with the intent of commercializing his ideas. He died, however, in June 2004. Since then, his widow and family have pursued compensation for his inventions, the lawsuit said.

"Although Mark Zuckerberg did not start what became Facebook until 2003, it bears a remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation, to the personal web page diary that Van Der Meer had invented years earlier," the lawsuit states.

A Facebook spokesman contacted Monday declined to comment.

Van Der Meer applied for two patents for his system. The first, U.S. Patent No. 6,415,316, describes a system by which people could create a personal Web diary in chronological order and share third-party content with a select group of people through privacy settings.

The second, U.S. Patent No. 6,289,362, describes how a user can transfer content to a personal diary by clicking on buttons present on third-party Web pages, which are linked to the user's diary.

Facebook's "Like" button is pervasive across content providers outside of the social network and used to drive traffic to their sites.

In June 2012, Facebook acquired U.S. Patent No. 7,907,966, a patent originally granted to AOL that describes a way of running cross-platform applications on a wireless device. That patent lists one of Van Der Meer's patents as a reference.

"Upon information and belief, the acquisition of the '966 patent either reinforced Facebook's prior knowledge of the '316 and '362 patents, or made Facebook aware of the '362 patent and of the related '316 patent," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks damages along with interest and court costs. It suggests the damages award should be trebled since it alleges the infringement of the patents is willful. The law firm Fish and Richardson is representing Rembrandt Social Media, a company that represents Van Der Meer's family's interests.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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