Myspace and Craiglist have been absolved of patent infringment by pointing to the scientific achievements of a Harvard-Ph.D. computer science professor, who they argued created the same processes more than a decade earlier.

On March 2, 2012, the court of appeals for the federal circuit finally ruled in the favor of Myspace and Craiglist over whether they had infringed on the patent rights asserted by software/cloud development company GraphOn.   In a nutshell, GraphOn had accused Myspace/Craiglist of violating four patents it had obtained to a database-entry mechanisms that would store user fields and information without intervention by the webmaster.  At one point, Fox Audience Network, Inc. (now a part of the Rubicon Project) also joined in the suit and fought alongside Myspace and Craiglist.

MySpace/Craiglist counterargued that before any of GraphOn’s patents became effective, back in 1993, Harvard-Ph.D. Dr. Oliver McBryan of the University of Colorado developed the “Mother of all Bulletin Boards” system (MBB), which was essentially an identical process.  MySpace/Craiglist argued that GraphOn’s patents were invalid because of the pre-existing MBB process, under the terms of the U.S. Patent Act.

The court, in a long but carefully throught-through 37-page opinion, agreed, and ruled that GraphOn’s patents were indeed invalid.  Although the case could be appealed by GraphOn, for now, Myspace and Craiglist have been absolved of patent infringement.  The decision makes sense legally, but also because of practical considerations.  If GraphOn’s patents were deemed valid, every database-driven social networking site, “user account-based,” or e-commerce website could have been crippled and left virtually unable to collect and store users’ details and data using an automatic field-population process.  Unlike SOPA/PIPA, those circumstances actually could have brought the internet to a screeching halt…. or resulted in a huge financial windfall for GraphOn.

Related Resources: Full court opinion at http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-1149.pdf