Facebook has been granted a patent for its news feed that is likely to give it a major competitive edge over some of its biggest rivals, including LinkedIn.
The social networking giant has sought the patent since 2006, but it was granted only this week.
LinkedIn could not immediately be reached for comment on how much it believes its network to be affected by the development.
The abstract describing the patent said that Facebook now owns the method of "generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social network environment, and attaching an informational link associated with at least one of the activities to at least one of the news items, as well as limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers, and assigning an order to the news items".
The method "may further include displaying the news items in the assigned order to at least one viewing user of the predetermined set of viewers, and dynamically limiting the number of news items displayed".
While the patent uses technical wording, Facebook declined to comment on how it may affect rivals such as Twitter, LinkedIn and LiveJournal.
However, Susan Hall, a partner at law firm Cobbetts, argued that the passing of the patent is significant for the whole social networking market.
"If this patent stands, all the other social networking sites risk being dragged into a patent dispute with Facebook," she said.
"I'm not sure on the level of detail, but it is entirely probable that the patent will have a major impact on social networking use in the US and even sites that use RSS feeds. I wonder what LinkedIn will do."
Hall also suggested that the development of social networking sites will also be affected. "People will be extremely reluctant to put social networks in place that inflict on the patent," she said.
The terms of the patent state that web bulletin boards, communication services, dating services and company intranets are also likely to be affected.
However, Hall believes that the patent is likely to be revoked because of the restrictions it will impose on the social media market.
"I believe it will be overturned, but the big issue is how long this will take. In the meantime is it going to put a three-year crimp in the industry?" she said.
"The only good I can see coming out of this is for the market in Europe. Many social networks may move out of the US so they are not affected.
Rowan Freeland, a partner at law firm Simmons & Simmons, downplayed the potential impact of the patent.
"The big question is even if Facebook manages to enforce the patent, will there be any impact on users?" he said.
"Generally patent arguments last for five years and then companies tend to come to a deal, or the Twitters of this world design their way around it. So it's good for Facebook as a business proposition, but I doubt we will see an impact on users."
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