The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just published a patent application by Microsoft that may raise some eyebrows. "Like" an application, "recommend it" to a friend and you are in patent territory.
Microsoft says that the sheer number of applications makes it more and more difficult for software developers to reach the eyeballs they need to score downloads. A viral distribution method that is based on word of mouth to distribute software may be much more effective in the future, a patent application that was filed in November 2010 claims.
That may be rather common sense until that point, but Microsoft believes that such an idea that results in software downloads that can be traced back to social "likes" deserves to be awarded with a patent. The only noteworthy specific feature of the technology described in the patent application is a capability for a device to automatically find a version of a recommended app that runs on the device of the user - which would cut out the "inconvenience" for a user to search for that app.
From the patent application:
"In one embodiment, a first device receives information of an application from a second device through a short-range communication channel. The information of the application includes identification information of the application without any personally identifiable information. A version of the application that is compatible with the first device is determined by searching a catalog using the identification information of the application. The first device then may download or otherwise obtain the compatible version of the application."
Viral app/content distribution via "likes" would be difficult to patent for Microsoft in a social desktop environment as Facebook has established this technology several years ago. However, Microsoft's patent specifically targets mobile devices and applications stores. Conceivably, Microsoft may a good shot at winning the rights to this idea.