Yahoo is taking on Facebook — but it’s not vying for the hearts and minds of the Internet cool kids. It’s for licensing fees over some patents. This is not how it was supposed to be.
No, I’m not naive. But I am a bit of a romantic. Thing is, I remember when Yahoo was an upstart with two crazy awkward college kids who came up with something that the search giants of the time — Lycos and Alta Vista — could not withstand. Yahoo’s scrappiness was part of a long tradition of Silicon Valley startups that came before (and would come after). Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the elder statesmen of Silicon Valley who began their iconic company in a now iconic garage, Jerry Yang and David Filo started with nothing but an idea in a dorm room and changed everything. Yahoo’s blazing success in search and (the now-quaint notion of) cataloging the Web begs comparison to two other crazy awkward college kids who started a search engine. That search engine, of course, killed Yahoo. It had an equally kooky name — Google.
Now Yahoo, as part of its effort remake itself after a decade of decline, is said to be wielding a new weapon: a patent trove. The stellar DealBook blog of the New York Times, which first reported this story, couldn’t get anyone to disclose the particulars, but it quotes “people briefed on the matter” as saying Yahoo is threatening lawsuits and is in the midst of negotiations with a pretty big fish. “Yahoo is seeking to force Facebook into licensing 10 to 20 patents over technologies that include advertising, the personalization of Web sites, social networking and messaging,” DealBook reports.
Oh, how the mighty have… matured, to be charitable. Yahoo was crazy disruptive before “disruptive” was even digerati shorthand for “cool.” It was so popular that Reuters — yes, this Reuters — took a sizable stake in the young company. The American executive who made this happen, Andy Nibley, delighted in telling the story of how the very British Reuters board received the news he was investing millions in a company named “Yahoo!”
For years the two companies closely partnered to create wicked revolutionary news services. I know this because I was the lead guy on the Reuters editorial side in those heady days, collaborating with some daring executives and talented engineers at Yahoo’s Mountain View mecca.