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New social networks continue to be created each day. But can you protect your new social network with a patent and prevent it from being copied?

In a recent situation, a patent was essentially for enabling the relocation of personnel. It covered the maintenance of a list of participants who could assist in resolving issues at particular geographic locations. A user could submit an inquiry for an issue, and the user could then communicate with selected participants. Performance ratings by participants could be tracked by various factors, including the length of time it took the participant to respond and how well the participant resolved the issue. And, a rating of individual participants could be updated.

The patent laws say that if the invention is directed to an "abstract idea", the invention may not be patentable.

For the above patent, the court found that the patent was directed to the abstract idea of automating the conventional establishment of social networks to allow users to exchange information and create relationships. Moreover, the court characterized the patent as a method of organizing human activity.

But even if the invention is an abstract idea, it may still be patentable if the invention provides something more than just the abstract idea.

In this instance, the court further found that the rating system did not make the invention more than an abstract idea.

The hurdle for patentability of social networks is that they are based on gathering together users having a common interest and exchanging data about that common interest. Often, the patent office and the courts will "reject" a patent application/issued patent if it merely involves gathering data and then publishing/distributing the data.

So, if you want to get a patent on your social network, you need to have more than just gathering and distributing data. Perhaps the "more" can be a unique algorithm that helps solve a problem. And the algorithm is more than just something that people have been doing with pencil and paper.

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