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Surprise at Yahoo's 'bald-faced' Facebook lawsuit

13 Mar 2012

Yahoo has taken a big gamble by launching a patent suit against Facebook, just months before the social networking giant is due to launch a multi-billion-dollar Initial Public Offering (IPO).

The lawsuit, published in full on Mashable, points to 10 patents for web page design and other practices fundamental to Facebook’s operation, and asks for triple damages as well as a permanent ceasing of infringing actions.

"The heart of many websites today is social networking,” the filing reads.

"Yahoo! recognised the importance of social interaction on the internet and developed technology that allows customers to customise information about themselves, join groups of others with the same interests as themselves, and share interesting information.”

The filing even has the nerve to cite Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s oft-noted quote in which he says, ‘Getting there first is not what it’s about’.

"For much of the technology upon which Facebook is based, Yahoo! got there first,” the filing reads.

Despite the New York Times foreshadowing the lawsuit last month it’s come as quite a surprise; even bosses at Facebook didn’t see it coming, saying in a statement that they only learned about the move as the media did.

"We’re disappointed that Yahoo, a longtime business partner of Facebook and a company that has substantially benefitted from its association with Facebook, has decided to resort to litigation,” the statement reads.

Taking on Facebook at this time certainly seems like a low blow; Forbes’ Robert Hof says the move ‘has all the appearances of a bald-faced grab for a piece of Facebook’s IPO haul’.

Even ignoring the IPO, no-one likes a patent troll (except lawyers), and the move has the potential to really hurt Yahoo’s brand, especially if it sets off a wave of counter-claims similar to that which has overrun the mobile device industry.

Full run-downs of the patents in question have been published by CNet, Forbes and others. Have a read, check out the lawsuit itself, and let us know your thoughts in the comments – does Yahoo have a point, or is the company just trying to take advantage of Facebook while it’s vulnerable?