周一，雅虎（Yahoo）一纸诉状将Facebook告上法庭，称Facebook侵犯了自己的专利权。其实，早在去年11月，MDB Capital投资公司的一名分析师预言了这场官司。MDB Capital是一家华尔街投行，专门投资拥有大量知识产权的企业。
吉尔曾受邀替维权股东丹尼尔•洛布的第三点（Third Point）对冲基金评估雅虎的专利资产，因为自去年9月以来，这家对冲基金已经收购了雅虎这个已经陷入困境的搜索巨头超过5%的股份。另外在成为MDB Capital的知识产权总监以前，吉尔还曾在奥巴马政府任职，负责评估美国专利与商标局（the US Patent and Trademark Office）的战略和运作。吉尔在职业生涯的早期阶段还做过专利审查员。
The patent suit filed yesterday by Yahoo against Facebook was effectively predicted last November by an analyst at MDB Capital, an investment bank that finances companies rich in intellectual property.
Now, in an interview with Fortune, that same analyst, Erin-Michael Gill, predicts that Facebook -- which has not been caught completely flat-footed by the attack -- will respond by countersuing Yahoo, asserting patents it has acquired in anticipation of this type of attack. Facebook, whose portfolio now includes at least 54 granted U.S. patents, has acquired 30 of those in the past two years, notes Gill, including 22 since August.
Nevertheless, Gill predicts, in the end Facebook will probably strike a cross-licensing deal that calls for it to cough up a "substantial sum" to Yahoo (YHOO), because of the number, breadth, and nature of Yahoo's patents. Yahoo's timing isn't likely to hurt, either. The suit landed just weeks before Facebook's anticipated IPO, which is expected to value the company at some $100 billion.
What does Yahoo have on Facebook? "Here Yahoo is asserting 10 patents, covering a broad diversity of core functions and features of Facebook," Gill says. "This is not the kind of thing where you would expect Facebook to say, 'Okay, could we design around all these claims?' or 'Could we prove invalidity of all these claims?' It's possible, but fairly difficult. . . . Yahoo has wave after wave of claims here." (Neither Gill nor MDB has any stake in either Facebook or Yahoo, he says.)
Yahoo's patents, according to the suit filed in federal court in San Jose, California, cover inventions relating to "messaging, news feed generation, social commenting, advertising display, preventing click fraud, and privacy controls." In a statement responding to the suit, Facebook said, "We will defend ourselves vigorously against these puzzling actions."
Gill was first asked to assess the strength of Yahoo's patent portfolio by activist shareholder Daniel Loeb's hedge fund, Third Point, which has acquired more than 5% of the struggling search giant since September. Prior to becoming MDB's chief intellectual property officer, Gill was a political appointee in the Obama administration reviewing the US Patent and Trademark Office's strategy and operations. Early in his career Gill was a patent examiner.
Gill recalls doing an analysis of Yahoo's patent portfolio. "One thing that jumped out at me was its applicability to Facebook," he says. Third Point then put Gill in touch with Eric Jackson, a fund manager with long positions in Yahoo, and Jackson wrote a story in Forbes.com about Yahoo's potential patent strength vis-à-vis Facebook.