Social Concepts, founded by former Ebay executive Jeff Skoll, has been awarded a patent for a virtual happy hour. Imagine one bar suing all other bars over offering drinks at a discount during a certain time frame.
This patent, of course, is not about drinks. It is about discount virtual goods offered during a "happy hour". The basic concept relies on someone buying the rights to a happy hour, in the hopes that cheaper goods will excite people and result in more friends for the generous happy hour initiator. According to the patent, "users are notified of which user initiated the happy hour, and are also notified that interaction incentives accumulate at an increased rate during the happy hour."
The fact that the "system also tracks user scorings that accumulate based on the user interaction, and enables certain website features based on these user scorings" and monitors "ratings for user-uploaded objects and identifies top rated objects for displaying on web pages viewable by other users" is reminiscent of an elaborate social advertising product that is a tool to increase the popularity of individuals, groups and organizations on social networks.
While it is questionable whether the idea of a happy hour should be patentable, the idea may have been unique back in 2007 when it was filed. The patent authors, which include investor William Lee, claim that "website design to encourage people meeting and interacting online has remained relatively primitive", despite the advances in overall Internet technology. The happy hour is a concept that makes meeting people and interacting over electronic networks at least as desirable as meeting them offline.
Arguing a happy hour patent in court may be just as entertaining as the happy hour itself. So we would hope that someone will offer a virtual happy hour and Social Concepts will attempt to enforce it.