Patent Panting

RAM: Patent PantingFriendster was on top of the social networking world when it applied for what some dubbed "the patent on social networking" back in 2003. By the time Friendster actually received the patent, in 2006, the site was already on the downside of a precipitous slide from relevance. But despite being passed in the American market by Facebook, MySpace, and numerous other social networking venues, Friendster is still alive and kicking, and continuing to pile up patents.

They trail the industry leaders by miles domestically, but Friendster is stunningly dominant in Asia, where it enjoys an audience roughly the size of MySpace and Facebook's combined. While the site has shifted its focus to that market - tapping Sydney-based Richard Kimber, Google's former regional managing director for South Asia as their new ceo; making Friendster available in numerous Asian languages; staffing up in its Malaysia and Philippines offices - Friendster has also continued its patent gambit. Last December, Friendster received its fourth social networking patent, this time for a compatibility scoring system.

As ever, Friendster is being coy about what use, if any, these patents will be to the company. Management has traditionally described them as a part of Friendster's "portfolio," and doesn't appear to be interested in using the patents as levers to litigation. But Friendster's strategic patent reserve has to make its competitors nearly as nervous as its ridiculous edge in Asia. David Roth

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