Facebook announced this week it could be "materially affected" by Yahoo's claims the company violates some Yahoo patents (read that as "we may have to pay Yahoo some money").
But the most important patent for Facebook isn't owed by Yahoo. It's not owned by Facebook either.
It's patent 6,175,831, titled "Method and apparatus for constructing a networking database and system" but commonly known as the "Six Degrees" patent.
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While the language inside the patent is complicated ("wherein the configuration file specifies the format of the embed code and has a variable field into which the content ID is inserted") it can be described best as "the patent which allows you to connect with friends on the internet".
It's owned by Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus. Fortunately for Facebook, they're allies of Facebook. Pincus runs Zynga, which depends on Facebook for much of its traffic and Hoffman is an investor in both Facebook and Zynga.
Pincus and Hoffman are longtime friends. Back in the turn of the 21st century, the pair joined Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams in a troika of social networking: Friendster would concentrate on friends and dating, Pincus and his company Tribes would target groups and get-togethers, and LinkedIn would concentrate on business networking.
Pincus and Hoffman would later buy a patent (notably excluding Abrams) to protect their fledgling businesses.
In the clip below, Hoffman describes trying to come up with the $700,000 to buy the patent:
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