August 30, 2012: The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reported that Google had acquired the rights to a set of 7 patents from deCarta. I worked at deCarta from 2005-9 and am pretty familiar with the patents so I thought I’d comment on the significance. However, nothing here is based on proprietary or confidential information; it’s all readily available to anyone who wants to read the patents closely but, since I’ve done that, I thought I might save anyone interested the trouble.
deCarta has over 50 patents and this news is only about 7 that relate to social-location. These patents all date to around 2000 and were acquired as part of the 2003 acquisition of Gravitate. Gravitate was a Dot.Com 1.0 company. The term SoLoMo (Social+Location+Mobile) had thankfully not been invented then but if it had, this would have been it. Gravitate was focussed on connecting people via their mobile devices based on location and some other common element, like a shared interest, a shared search term or a “graph representing a individual relationships”, what we today call a Social Network. Although Gravitate did not get market traction (it was ten years too early), they were aggressive about IP protection and filed this set of patents. We certainly were aware of them when I was there but the market had not really developed.
I am not a patent expert and cannot vouch for the strength or enforceability of the patents. I can say this: They have early issue dates, have broad coverage and cover a half dozen very interesting combinations involving the connection of mobile users based on their location and one other factor. You’ve got Location plus:
- A linked social graph (like finding friends nearby)
- A common conversation or dialog (like talking to others about an event)
- A common search term (like looking for Mexican food)
- A common interest (like meeting people who have similar tastes)
- A common advertising message
What is interesting now, in 2012, is that almost every single company working in the SoLoMo space offers a service based on one of those combinations. It is not appropriate to name names but think about it: Pick a SoLoMo service and it will basically consist of creating a connection between mobile users based on their location and one of the above factors.
Again, the strength of the patents are best determined by someone else, but I think Google just got some nice additions to their expanding IP portfolio. As the competition between these major platforms like Facebook, Apple, Nokia, Amazon et al heats up, these may be important.
I called Kim Fennell, CEO fo deCarta for comment. He declined to comment on the deal…but sounded rather cheerful. He did indicate that they have had a lot of in-bound interest in these patents in recent months as the social-location space has grown.
I suspect they got a nice deal for IP assets that were largely unused. Well done, all around.