Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn and Twitter are four of the most important startups of the past few years, so their patent portfolios are worth monitoring.  How many patents do these four companies have? This morning, the popular Twitterer @counternotions made the following inaccurate tweet:

http://twitter.com/#!/counternotions/status/130963720259108864

I don’t know the actual agenda of this Twitterer, who has close to 43,000 followers, but clearly the tweet was not backed up by research.  This inaccurate information has now been retweeted at least twenty five times.

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Update:  The numbers from @counternotions post came from a businessweek article

http://twitter.com/#!/counternotions/status/131114095033331713

The article states: “Part of the risk for the new generation of Web companies comes from their weak patent portfolios. Facebook has only 12 patents to its name, while the totals for Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, and Groupon range from zero to two each, according to filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.”  It is unclear where Business Week got its data, but hopefully they will fix the mistake.

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A simple search of the USPTO Assignment database reveals that Facebook alone has well over 20 patents.  According to the database, Facebook’s current patent portfolio includes 43 U.S. patents and 87 published patent applications.  Of course, as I mentioned previously, Facebook famously acquired the Friendster patent portfolio last year for $40 million dollars.

Groupon is also doing very well for itself in the patent department.  Groupon’s intellectual property portfolio includes 17 U.S. patents and at least 14 patent applications.

Linkedin and Twitter are not quite as prolific.  Linkedin has two U.S. patents and four published patent applications.  Twitter, which I profiled previously, has a single U.S. Patent Application directed to “pull down to refresh.”

The total count for the four companies is 62 patents and 106 published patent applications.  This does not include any patent applications that have been filed, but have not yet been published because of the USPTO’s 18 month waiting period prior to publishing an application.  It should further be noted that the USPTO’s average pendency for a patent application is somewhere around three years (depending on the technology area), therefore strictly looking at issued patents for young companies such as Twitter can be misleading.