Chadha & Chadha - India
“We don’t have a choice whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” This phrase by author Erik Qualman demonstrates the power of social media in a world where the space between ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’ continues to blur. What began as a medium for information exchange has, in less than one generation, evolved into its own intangible world, which dictates consumer behaviour and business decisions. However, in this limitless space, companies are devising dynamic schemes to make the most of these virtual communication forums, and patent rights protection is emerging as a key way to facilitate this, through patents for specific elements of a social media network.
While similar to other patent applications, social media patents must meet the criteria of novelty, non-obviousness and industrial application as laid out under Section 2 of the Indian Patents Act. However, as these platforms constantly change, social media patents often present unprecedented challenges with regard to patent regimes across the globe.
The Indian scenario
Gartner Inc’s 2013 study promulgated the idea that companies must consider the opportunities and risks that the convergence of social, information, mobile and the Cloud present when re-evaluating sourcing options, delivery models and vendors. Less than a decade on from this report, companies have transformed their business models to make them compatible with social media trends. The significance of social media can be demonstrated by the fact that conglomerates such as Larsen & Toubro are engaged in developing social analytics, which makes use of natural language processing tools and sentiment analysis to offer a framework to classify social media reactions. Moreover, recognising the potential of the Indian consumer space, social media giants have secured relevant patents under the Indian Patents Act to ensure dominance.
Facebook has secured an Indian patent under application 830/CHENP/2009 for its invention relating to systems and methods for generating dynamic relationship-based content, personalised for members of the social network site.
Facebook claimed that it sought patent protection for the invention in an attempt to find needs-based interactions from information and data available on the social networking sites. Aimed at systemising the volume of data generated through the social media footprints, the patent claims the use of personal data by social media companies in order to create and monitor consumer demands.
Another patent secured by Facebook in India pertains to its systems and methods, which provide privacy settings for applications installed in customer profiles. The specification that the company filed with the Indian Patent Office explains that users may usually install applications, which can be accessed through a link pasted to a user’s profile, or through an application installed within the member’s profile. Applications installed within the member profile may comprise profile applications or platform applications. These applications are developed by third-party entities outside the social network, by the social network or members of the network. The patent was granted after immense scrutiny by the Indian Patent Office. Initially, when the application came up for hearing on 28 June 2017, the office raised various objections, including the method in the first three claims being nothing but an algorithmic method of providing application-based privacy in a social network, which was barred under Section 3(K), which mandates the non-patentability of algorithms.
Facebook amended its claims and said that the method related to third-party applications was available through a privacy summary module, which was a summary of the privacy settings for display. Subsequently, the Indian Patent Office that accepted the amended claims held the invention to be patentable under the relevant provisions of the Patents Act.
Another patent obtained by Google in India for its technology to create virtual graffiti in a mobile virtual and augmented reality system aimed to help users to leave messages at a location of their choosing and was also seen as consistent with the growing trend of ‘virtual communities’.
Globally, a trend that has also been consistent with the growth of a social media platforms is their appetite for purchasing patents from other companies. Recently, Twitter bought 900 patents from IBM, rather than entering into litigation against it, including at least three that the tech giant claimed that Twitter was infringing. Threatened with litigation, Facebook followed the same route of acquiring patents from IBM. With the acquisition of patents becoming a fast-paced trend, the real opportunities of expanding R&D seem to be diluted.
As consumer attention becomes the priority of these social media giants, whether these companies thrive, survive or die out will largely depend on how well they monetise themselves. With newer platforms being developed, the future of businesses as well as social media platforms depends on the advantages that they acquire in this space, with patent rights being paramount to this success.