What kind of things did/can companies like ebay, facebook, or Twitter patent?

I’m pretty sure that these companies all have a bunch of patents. But you can’t patent an idea, so what do they patent exactly?

If you were coming up with a website of that scale, what types of things would try to patent? Any?


Unfortunately, many of the patents are just that, trivial ideas. An algorithm is just an idea, like a formula or recipe. Mathematic formulas are not patentable, nobody can patent apple pie.

Written software/code is copyrighted, so authors & owners are protected from direct copying/theft - this is completely valid.

But with the way software patents work now, if you independently come up with an idea of how to do something using software, it may be patented already.

Many of the big companies are patenting every algorithm they think up. Amazon’s one click shopping is an example. From the contest industry which I work in, printing a code on a packet and allowing someone to enter the code, and the code being used as a “seed” to determine if a user has won a prize is a patent. There is no in depth description of how exactly the win or loss is generated using the code, just that the code determines the win or loss! It more or less patents the whole idea of an online contest using a preselected code which is a terribly trivial idea.

Just look up articles on the software patent debate & software patent trolls - the biggest fear is that every idea will patented and innovation will not be possible for small comapnies who can not afford to pay to use existing patents.

Great info. Thanks. So does that mean that ebay can patent how pictures are uploaded? Can facebook patent how you post a video? And if so, and the precise code they use may be patented, how restritive is that for someone else who may want to give people the ability to upload pictures or video?

Before a lawyer appears to point out that
"I claim the algorithm which … "
is inadmissable as a patent claim, let’s mention we just needed some extra words:
"I claim the use of a computing apparatus which implements the algorithm which … "
The fact that all your descriptions and diagrams dealt with the algorithm rather than the apparatus didn’t change the legal fact that you’re now patenting a “man-made apparatus” rather than a “God-given” formula.

Or rather, that’s how it was in the 1990’s. I think there’s since been legislation to make it harder to patent software.

Septimus - there is a debate though if the algorithms are indeed a man-made apparatus or just abstract ideas. Many existing & new software patents should never have been awarded due to prior art - or how an idea is really really derivative.

if you want to see a really stupid patent, take a look at facebook’s newsfeed patent.