By now you are probably aware that on March 19, 2013, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued U.S. Patent No. 8,401,009 to Twitter, and more specifically to Jack Dorsey and Christopher Isaac Stone. The Twitter patent is titled: Device Independent Message Distribution Platform. In other words, Twitter was awarded a patent on “Tweeting”!
Now those of you who know me and have read my posts in the past, know that I am not a patent attorney myself (although I am married to one who is rather well known). Rather, I am a social media strategist — sometimes called The Social Media Diva™ — who uses Twitter and other social media platforms to assist my clients in their online marketing strategies. Quite frequently we will feature posts that analyze the technologies of an issued patent from the IP attorney perspective. We thought it would be fun for me to analyze this patent from a non-attorney standpoint as it pertains to social media platforms as a whole.
For the patent professionals who are reading you may find it interesting to see the complete file history for the Twitter patent.
Whenever I look at a patent, the first thing I look at is the Abstract. From a non-attorney stand point, the Abstract is often (but not always) a good summation of the invention and is often sufficient for me to at least begin to understand the innovation. The Abstract of the Twitter patent is as follows:
A system (and method) for device-independent point to multipoint communication is disclosed. The system is configured to receive a message addressed to one or more destination users, the message type being, for example, Short Message Service (SMS), Instant Messaging (IM), E-mail, web form input, or Application Program Interface (API) function call. The system also is configured to determine information about the destination users, the information comprising preferred devices and interfaces for receiving messages, the information further comprising message receiving preferences. The system applies rules to the message based on destination user information to determine the message endpoints, the message endpoints being, for example, Short Message Service (SMS), Instant Messaging (IM), E-mail, web page output, or Application Program Interface (API) function call. The system translates the message based on the destination user information and message endpoints and transmits the message to each endpoint of the message.
In the case of this patent’s Abstract, it appears to me that they were trying to protect all forms of direct messaging including text messages and instant message platforms such as the instant messaging we’ve been doing since the days of Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin’ Jack Flash. You know what I am referring to don’t you? Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a spy movie that came out in 1986. Whoopi’s character, Terry Doolittle, works for a bank and uses computers to communicate with clients all over the world. One night, while working late, Terry receives a coded message from an unknown source. In order for Terry to decode the message she must listen to the lyrics of the Rolling Stones song titled Jumping Jack Flash, which is a hilarious scene, I might add. After she decodes the message she begins communicating with “Jack” regularly via a secure instant message channel. He is dependent upon her to help bring him safely home. In order to help make that happen, she becomes mixed up in an espionage ring where people are killed and she is chased on multiple occasions, often running for her life.
In fact, the reason this came to mind and why I remember it so well is because while I was in my undergraduate program at the Wilkes-Barre Campus of Penn State, my older sister Debby was in her graduate program in Kansas. We used a similar platform to talk to each other in real-time from our respective campuses. At that time, the instant message program was more of an open chat forum. We even gave ourselves the codes names of “Jack” and “Flash”. And guess who was “Flash”! Yep, you guessed it! I was Flash! Ah, the good ole’ days!
Any how… let’s dig a little further in our understanding of the Twitter patent and underlying invention.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
This section often helps me better understand the application because it refers to that which is lacking in the prior art. From a non-attorney point of view, by reading about what is wrong with or missing from that which is currently available to me, I can get a better idea about the objectives of the current invention being discussed in the patent.
1. Field of Art
The disclosure generally relates to the field of electronic communications and more specifically, to distributing messages independently of the sending or receiving devices.
2. Description of the Related Art
Electronic communication is normally available only between similar devices or message types. When a user sends an e-mail message through an e-mail client, the sender specifies the e-mail addresses of the recipients and the message is delivered to the e-mail accounts of the recipients who retrieve the messages through e-mail clients. Similarly, a user will send a Short Message Service (SMS) message from a cell phone, specify the phone numbers of the recipients, and the recipients will view the message on their cell phones. Similar procedures are normally followed for Instant Messaging (IM) and Web-based communication (such as a web-based discussion forum).
As I read the background and description of the related art, it became more apparent that the invention was meant to improve upon the “significant limitations” of the current ability to communicate not only from email to email and text to text, but also to be able to communicate regardless of whether one was on a computer, a cell phone, an iPad or other device and regardless of the specific carrier.
The patent states that the Twitter System “beneficially allows for device independent point to multipoint communication.” Because in general the prior art of this application lacks “a system and method for sending a message to multiple receivers where the sender and receivers are using different devices and interface, and where the sender does not need to have knowledge of the receiver’s particular device and interface, or the receiver’s address for the particular device and interface of choice.“
What went through my mind initially was this question: How is this different from any other social media platform? I still need to use an app or webpage in order to access the information on my twitter account and also on LinkedIn and even to some degree on Facebook, I can see what others are communicating about even though I do not have access to their personal information. So I’m left to wonder how is the Twitter platform being described in this patent different from that of the LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest platforms for example?
Perhaps you are thinking the same thing about this not sounding all that new or innovative. But before you reach that conclusion look at the filing date for the Twitter patent application. Twitter filed this application on July 22, 2008, claiming priority from a provisional patent application filed on July 23, 2007. This makes a big difference in the analysis. The question is not whether the Twitter described innovation as “new” as of March 2013, but rather whether it was new and unique as of July 2007.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The Summary of the Invention is typically a place where you can get a fairly straight forward understanding of the invention without thick legal jargon, at least usually. OK, at least sometimes. Here is a portion of the Summary of the Invention.
Disclosed is a system (and/or method) that includes, for example, a routing engine that receives a message from any of various entry points, including e-mail, short message service (SMS), instant messenger (IM), web input, and application programming interface (API) function calls. The routing engine determines the identities of the destination users to receive the message, possibly by expanding destination groups. The routing engine determines the endpoints on which the destination users wish to receive the message, the endpoints can be one or more of e-mail, SMS, IM, web input, and API function calls. The destination endpoints are independent of the source entry points, and the message sender does not need to have knowledge of the endpoints, or endpoint-specific user addresses. A single user can receive a message at multiple endpoints. The routing engine applies rules to the message to determine the actual destination endpoints for each user, translates the message as appropriate for each endpoint, and transmits the message to the endpoints, where the message is delivered to the destination user.
After reading the summary, I am getting a better idea of what exactly Twitter is trying to protect in this patent. The summary mentions an example of a routing engine that not only receives the messages or “tweets” that are posted from various “entry points” but that also determines the identities of destination users to receive the messages being sent. In other words, if I am getting this right, no matter where someone tweets a message to @ipwatchdog_too, the twitter system is capable of knowing who ipwatchdog_too is (that would be me) and where to send the message so that I am able to get it on say, my cell phone without the person sending the message having access to or knowing my cell phone number. With the other platforms, I can also have my “messages” sent to my cell phone including the instant message feature within the Facebook platform. I just have to set it up in advance. So again I ask, how is this really different? Could it be that Twitter has obtained a patent that fundamentally covers the communication underpinnings of social media platforms?
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WHAT THE PATENT CLAIMS
OK, so this is where not being an attorney has it’s disadvantages and becomes problematic with understanding a patent. When I read the claims of most patents, I see run-on sentences that are WAY too long and never seem to end. Whew! Take a breath, would ya?!?!?! And where do we use “comprises” this often in everyday language? Nowhere! But I digress. Hmm Hmm (clearing of the throat) OK, back to the analysis!
1. A method for device-independent point to multipoint communication, the method comprising:
receiving from a first computing device of a first user a selection of one or more endpoints for receiving update messages;
receiving, from the first computing device, a request to follow a second user;
designating, by a computer processor, the first user as a follower of the second user in response to the request, wherein designating the first user comprises configuring an account of the first user to reference update messages broadcasted by the second user;
receiving, from a computing device of the second user, a broadcast request to broadcast an update message in a first format, wherein the update message lacks identification of the first user as an intended recipient, and wherein the update message includes an identification of the second user as a sender of the update message;
identifying, by the computer processor, a plurality of followers of the second user in response to the broadcast request, wherein the first user is among the plurality of followers;
determining addressing information of each of the plurality of followers, wherein the addressing information of the first user identifies the endpoints for receiving messages;
applying, for each of the plurality of followers, rules to the update message based on the addressing information;
translating the update message into an appropriate format for each of the endpoints; and
broadcasting the update message to each of the endpoints in the appropriate format.
It seems that the patent claims cover a method where User A puts out a broadcast request from the device of their choice. The message is then updated to the appropriate format and broadcasted as a message to each of the devices of those who User A follows or who follow User A. The end user (User B) is then able to receive the message on the device of User B’s choice, such as a cell phone, without User A knowing the personal information such as, in this case, a cell phone number of User B.
From my social media strategist’s point of view, it seems to me that the other social media platforms are utilizing similar functionality as well. I suppose that is a very good thing for Twitter! Depending on how strong this patent ultimately is and what Twitter wants to do with it, social media at its core may have been patented by Twitter.