In what could potentially be an immensely disruptive move, the US Patent office has granted a patent to Facebook for "displaying a news feed in a social network environment". The website applied for the patent in August 2006 - just before it launched the feature to the public.

The patent is very wide-ranging, and covers additional claims including feed filters, advertising, searching in the feed and various other capabilities. Of course, since its release, the "news feed" functionality has spread across many other sites. Almost any website with a social aspect has a news feed and some - like Twitter - consist of nothing but.

However, some sources are reporting that the patent just covers the publishing of stories about what your friends have been doing - not covering status updates. That would leave sites like Twitter in the clear, but still have considerable implications for the mobile web, should Facebook unleash its lawyers on competitors.

The inventors of the patent are listed as Facebook's top execs - Mark Zuckerberg, Ruchi Sanghvi, Andrew Bosworth, Chris Cox, Aaron Sittig, Chris Hughes, Katie Geminder, and Dan Corso. Facebook hasn't yet made a statement about the situation, but if the social network comments, we'll update this post with any developments.