Recent patent battles in mobile have raised the value of controlling a war chest of IP to secure one’s position among the super-powers in tech’s version of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). With news that Apple has recently secured the vaunted “Killer Patent” for location services, there is new speculation about a new round of patent wars in the location space and specifically, the social location market. With so many expectations resting on “SoLoMo”, any hammer lock on Intellectual Property (IP) in this area is likely to get the tech media into full on hyperventilation mode.
I am not a patent expert and can’t comment on the validity or strength of the Apple (or any other) patent. But I know this: The Apple patent comes from the Dot.Com v1 era (1999-2001)…and there is more where that came from. If SoLoMo is the next hot market, the next rush may be to buy patents and IP in this area.
There are two reasons for this:
- Location isn’t new. Contrary to what some believe, location and location services were not invented by hoodie-wearing 20-somethings in the last 3 years. Most of the basic ideas were thought of by their older brothers and fathers in dot.com v1 10 years ago. They were not necessarily feasible at the time (bad phones, bad mobile data, etc.) but the ideas were out there. Many of those ideas were patented, and those patents are now held by those less fashionable, slightly paunchier elder brothers.
- SoLoMo fundamentally relies on a narrow number of models, and those areas were all patented. Despite the huge number of start-ups in this field, Social Location basically relies on user location as modified by one of a few signals:
- Social graph: Find people nearby who are part of my social graph
- Local Search: Find what I’m looking for nearby
- Common Interests: Find people nearby who have common interests (including interest in meeting up)
- Common Place: Find people who are at the same place I am (Hello, Check-ins)
- Local Deal: Show me a deal that is near me
- Local Communication: Let me talk to or hear from people who are nearby (Let’s all talk about an event)
I’m probably missing one or two, but my point is that there are not that many unique modifiers to location that drive interesting social-location applications. And these were all thought of ten years ago. And patented. Broadly.
I am not necessarily advocating patent litigation as a competitive weapon; merely acknowledging the empirically proven and obvious point: patent portfolios have value in high growth markets. The combination of a market that had a long gestation period with a fairly narrow range of viable options makes for the IP lawyer’s equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. There are some interesting ten year old patents like the one Apple just secured out there, and I’m guessing these are about to become more valuable.