A trial has started in Alexandria, Va., federal court, where a holding company, known as Rembrandt Social Media, is suing the much larger Facebook.
The company claims Facebook infringed on patents which were assigned to a Dutch computer programmer, Joannes Van Der Meer. The programmer apparently attempted to offer site called "Surfbook," which is similar to Facebook. He got the patents before Facebook appeared. But Surfbook was never offered, and Van Der Meer died in 2004.
In response, Facebook claims Van Der Meer should never have been given the patents.
Rembrandt says Surfbook would have had such features as "like" and "share" buttons, as well as privacy settings that could be adjusted, according to The Associated Press. These are among the similarities to Facebook.
"Although Mark Zuckerberg did not start what became Facebook until 2003, it bears a remarkable resemblance, both in terms of its functionality and technical implementation, to the personal web page diary that Van Der Meer had invented years earlier," Rembrandt's lawyers said in a complaint filed with the federal court, and was quoted by The AP.
In addition, The New York Daily News has reported that Rembrandt’s lawyers will likely claim in court Facebook “was aware of the existence of its patents and had even cited them in its own patent applications.”
The Dutch programmer was not the only who claimed Facebook used some of his ideas. Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and their partner Divya Narendra, who had attended Harvard with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, settled with Zuckerberg for a reported $65 million. They claimed they came up with the idea for Facebook before Zuckerberg.
Meanwhile, Rembrandt Social Media has been labeled a "patent troll" by some of its opponents – which in this situation has a negative connotation.
In its defense, on its website, Rembrandt IP Management says it “has helped patent owners achieve a fair return on their intellectual property assets.”
“Rembrandt IP Management has assembled a team of professionals who are experienced in each of the areas critical to effectively commercializing infringed intellectual property. Our team is composed of talented scientists, attorneys, licensing executives, and financial analysts,” the website said. “Rembrandt IP Management's mission is to provide the necessary resources, including professional expertise and financial capital, to maximize the value of infringed intellectual property.”
The company adds it works to help owners of “strong patents that have great market value, and we enforce these patents against major companies that may infringe upon them.”
As of earlier this week, Facebook could not be reached for comment on the allegations.