Will Thompson’s Ouster Mean a Yahoo-Facebook Patent Settlement, Too?
In January, as the freshly crowned CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson initiated a series of dramatic acts to get the company back on track. The most notable was to make the boldest — or most boneheaded — move the head of Yahoo could make: Filing a patent infringement lawsuit against Facebook.
The controversial move was wildly unpopular in Silicon Valley, and even among many Yahoo employees.
But after a drawn-out weeklong controversy over a fake computer science degree on Thompson’s resume, he is reportedly headed out, and global media head Ross Levinsohn is in the driver’s seat as interim CEO.
Now one of the big questions is: Will Levinsohn take steps to repair Yahoo’s relationship with Facebook, especially since it has proved to be one of the most fruitful the ailing Silicon Valley Internet giant has seen in years?
Sources say that some members of Yahoo’s board, as well as the top exec, would welcome a settlement with Facebook on the litigation. Thompson was the main advocate of the in-your-face strategy against the social networking giant, levying a barrage of legal claims at a critical time — the quiet period before Facebook’s public offering this month.
So, if Yahoo wanted to turn back the tide of rancor toward Facebook, now is the time it could happen.
The lawsuit essentially deemed Facebook a thief of Yahoo’s social innovation, claiming that were it not for Yahoo’s many years of research and development, products such as Facebook’s News Feed, privacy settings, advertising models and more would never have come into existence.
“Facebook’s entire social network model, which allows users to create profiles for and connect with, among other things, persons and businesses, is based on Yahoo’s patented social networking technology,” one line from Yahoo’s lawsuit reads.
It’s unclear how much Levinsohn, acting as temporary CEO, will be able to change, in terms of the progress of the lawsuit. But if he’s looking to dial things back, his first call could be to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who would be instrumental in reaching some sort of detente in the case.
The initial act of aggression from Yahoo caught many in technology — including Yahoo’s employees — by surprise.
That’s because the various partnerships that the pair have struck in recent years have been hugely successful.
Yahoo’s Facebook-integrated Social Bar application, for example, has essentially been a traffic funnel from Facebook to Yahoo, with nearly 40 million monthly active users accessing the application, according to AppData statistics, and it is now one of the top Facebook apps.
It’s what Director of Product Development Jonathan Katzman called, in an interview last year, “the future of social for Yahoo.”
Finding a middle ground in some sort of settlement with Facebook could win back Yahoo detractors, a culture that praises innovation and largely rebuffs the practice of patent litigation as an act of trolling.
Facebook declined to comment, as did Yahoo, but several sources said to expect some movement sooner than later.