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Heirs of Dutch inventor sue Facebook over “like” button

A patent holding company representing the heirs of a dead Dutch programmer is suing Facebook over its “like” button and other features

Rembrandt Social Media, acting on behalf of the late Joannes Jozef Everardus van Der Meer, claims Facebook’s success can be partly attributed to using two of Van Der Meer's patents without authorisation.

The patents relate to technologies Van Der Meer used to build a prototype social network called Surfbook before his death in 2004. Surfbook was a social diary which allowed users to share information with contacts and approve some features using a “like” button.

According to court documents, Van Der Meer was granted the patents in 1998, five years before Facebook was launched. Rembrandt now owns the patents.

Facebook won't like thisRembrandt, which is being represented by Fish & Richardson, has filed a lawsuit in Virginia. Facebook’s attorneys have not yet been identified in court papers.

In a recent survey, Fish & Richardson was the top-ranked firm by number of federal district court patent suits handled in 2011.

Rembrandt claims that Facebook bears “a remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation” to Surfbook. According to the suit, one of Facebook's patents refers to Van Der Meer's patents, demonstrating that Facebook was aware of them.

"We believe Rembrandt's patents represent an important foundation of social media as we know it, and we expect a judge and jury to reach the same conclusion based on the evidence," said Fish & Richardson lawyer Tom Melsheimer in a statement.

The papers also say Facebook is aware of the patents as it has cited them in its own applications to patent some social networking technologies.

A second social media company called Add This was also cited in the lawsuit.

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