patent law

Snapchat’s Ephemeral Message Patent

At SXSW 2019, the founders of Instagram (Systrom and Krieger) mentioned that Instagram developed Snapchat-like features to build what is known as Instagram Stories. Story here.

Prior to Instagram Stories, Snapchat was unique in that the content that a user posted and shared could be ‘Ephemeral’ and would automatically be erased, for example, based on an elapse of time or a recipient viewing the content. Snapchat has a portfolio of patents that relate to this concept of ‘Ephemeral’ content.

One such patent is Snapchat’s US8909725B1 – Content Delivery Network for Ephemeral Objects. The patent claims a method that receives an object (for example, a video message) that is scheduled for automatic deletion based on a viewing period, a number of views, or a specified period of time.

Note that this patent does not claim the entire concept of ephemeral content delivery, but claims a specific way of doing it, namely be pushing the message to an ‘edge server cache’ based on certain criteria. For example, historical use patterns of a user or network traffic patterns dictate that the message might be in high demand, the message/object can be pushed to the cache. According to the patent, pushing the object to the cache can reduce latency when the object is requested later (for example, by a recipient that wants to view the message). This approach is useful for large objects (for example, a long video message) that are requested many times, but not for situations where the object is only requested few times.

So, in the case of an ‘Influencer’ with millions of followers, it would make sense to use this approach, because potentially, millions of followers could view a video. Also, if a video becomes very popular, then the object can be stored in cache, based on the criteria of network traffic patterns.

Instagram has presumably found ways to work around this patent and other Snapchat patents in Instagram’s implementation of Instagram Stories, which is a form of ephemeral content sharing. When drafting patents under current patent laws, it can be helpful to draft specific implementations of particular technologies to avoid invalidity. Unfortunately for the patentee, competitors can sometimes find workarounds to implement the same feature, but in a different way.

Leave a Reply