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British Telecom sues Prodigy over hyperlink patent

By DAldredge in Internet
Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 09:07:24 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

"British Telecom - which owns the patent to hypertext links - has begun its legal fight to claim back millions of dollars in licensing revenue from US ISPs.

Intellectual property attorneys, Kenyon & Kenyon yesterday filed a case on behalf of BT against Prodigy Communications Corp in New York State.

The Register Story


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British Telecom sues Prodigy over hyperlink patent | 37 comments (24 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
What the..... (3.12 / 8) (#1)
by Smirks on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 02:23:58 PM EST

can someone put that into plain english for us stupid-folk? What does this actually mean?!

[ Music Rules ]
IANAL, but... (3.66 / 9) (#2)
by emag on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 02:27:12 PM EST

I think it means that basically the entire WWW could be in a lot of trouble if BT wins this.
"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule." --H.L. Mencken
[ Parent ]
Yea... (2.66 / 6) (#3)
by Smirks on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 02:28:17 PM EST

That's what I think too..... this could get Nasty.

[ Music Rules ]
[ Parent ]
Not necessarily (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by u02sgb on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 07:01:20 AM EST

The main reason BT's going after Prodigy in the US is that the patents have lapsed in the other countries they were held in.

[ Parent ]
It means (4.80 / 10) (#11)
by Khedak on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 03:35:11 PM EST

It means that British Telecom claims to hold the patent on hyperlinks. This means that anyone writing software that uses hyperlink technology (all web browsers) must obtain a license from British Telecom to do so. In the worst case, it will be impossible to distribute software under a free license that uses hyperlinks because such software would violate their patent, and the cost of purchasing the right to use hyperlinks will drive up the cost of commercial web-browsers, unless the company is sufficiently large to pay the licensing fees without batting an eyelash (e.g., Microsoft). In the best case, though I'm not a lawyer, the court could decide that the patent isn't valid for whatever reason, and that would solve that problem.

[ Parent ]
Someone pop some popcorn... (4.30 / 10) (#4)
by Midnight Ryder on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 02:29:09 PM EST

Alright - I've been waiting for BT to go after someone for this! Why? Lets see... one, it was a fairly stupid patent in the first place. Two, they owned the patent, but, failed to enfore the patent for HOW many years, which is pretty much just fishing for money - wait for the tech to take off and everyone to begin using it, THEN go after everyone.

But number three is the fun one... Prior Art. Yep, it was done before then. I REALLY wish I had the article from /. on the subject handy. But, basically, there's already someone that had 8 - 10 years of a head start on the patent. However, I'm sure BT thought of this, and has scrutinized it closely before proceeding - but it sure looks like shaky ground to me.

Someone pop some popcorn, I'll bring some chips, and we'll kick back and watch the fur fly!

Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr

Owner / President

MidnightRyder.Com - game developer, among other things

/. articles (4.60 / 10) (#8)
by Ryan Koppenhaver on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 03:19:31 PM EST

The original slashdot article can be found here, with follow ups here and here.

[ Parent ]
That is just not cricket. (4.44 / 9) (#7)
by squigly on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 03:12:07 PM EST

This is just embarrasing. It's so un-British.

Actually, I don;t think BT have a lot to do with this. Its their patent, and they're probably going to get money from this, but it seems that Scipher are the people who are actually doing stuff (Press Release) BT just seem to be making vague statements supporting it.

It seems strange to be going after the ISP's though. Surely its the web browsers that actually use the links. Could it be that Netscape and Microsoft are considered to scary t fight?

People who sig other people have nothing intelligent to say for themselves - anonimouse
Kenyon & Kenyon (3.66 / 6) (#18)
by jbridge21 on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:29:59 PM EST

Those same ************* who are behind CueCat and at least one of the DeCSS cases, if I remember correctly.

Some people will do anything for money these days, it seems.

Lawyers (3.50 / 2) (#35)
by Matrix on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 09:38:54 AM EST

Wouldn't lawyers always do anything for money? Its kind of ironic that, on the average, the people most involved with the legal system are the ones that most deserve to be squashed by it... ;)

No offense intended to lawyers - I know there's quite a lot of good ones out there - but you must admit, there are a large number of very public lawyers who are obviously from another planet.

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]

More information (3.28 / 7) (#20)
by beebware on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 05:01:42 AM EST

Some more information is available from The Register<a/> where it details that this 1979 filed patent (granted in 1989) 'proves' that BT owns <a href="'4873662'.WKU.&OS=PN/4873662&RS=PN/4873662">the patent on hypertext links. More from 'Le Reg' here, here, here and here. BT and The Register are both mainly UK based so you can probably understand the coverage.
-- Blog: http://blog.beebware.co.uk
/. story (3.20 / 5) (#23)
by J'raxis on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 02:18:10 PM EST

Another link to the story, at IDG, from "the other site": http://www.idg.net/ic_316584_1794_1-483.html

-- The linkfinding Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]

Jargon File has an entry for this. (3.25 / 4) (#26)
by tayknight on Sun Dec 17, 2000 at 11:39:08 PM EST

Whaddya know. The Jargon File has an entry for this. Thanks ESR.
Pair up in threes - Yogi Berra
Why Prodigy? One possible solution! (4.75 / 4) (#27)
by 11oh8 on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 09:33:05 AM EST

It's strange that no engineer or developer inside BT had the chance to stop the management from making this PR mistake. It's even stranger that they picked Prodigy as their first target... or is it...

Untill I heard of this patent case, I didn't think Prodigy still existed. And a little checking on Yahoo shows that Prodigy's stock is down to $2 from about $20 at start of year. So BT is probably expecting that Prodigy doesn't have enough cash/people left to fight off this case and will find it cheaper and easier to simply give in. While this won't get much cash for BT, it will be a win. Of course, Prodigy has publicly stated that they will fight this case but what actually happens remains to be seen.


Patent Office, stupid patents, and Congress (4.00 / 3) (#28)
by flieghund on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 09:59:43 AM EST

The United States Patent & Trademark Office exists under charter of the United States Congress -- its existence, power, and policies are not autonomous. ISTR that Congress has stepped in and invalidated a patent or two in the past, though I may just be making this up. Either way, it is a definite possibility.

If BT wins the case, as is likely considering Prodigy's lack of a financial warchest of any kind, it sets legal precedence for BT's case and makes it that much more difficult for the next target to fight. However, if you could convince enough people in Congress that BT's patent threatens the viability of the Internet, Sacred Cow of Congress, I'll wager that they would invalidate BT's patent "for the good of the nation."

Of course, I could be full of shite, and I did just wake up.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
BT == B*****d Telecoms (2.50 / 2) (#29)
by Aztech on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 11:14:15 AM EST

I wish this "company" would drop the world British from their title... gives the country a bad name, what they're doing is just not cricket I tell you :)

I'm glad I switched my phone lines over to Cable years ago. BT can shove ADSL up their arse too, I'll take my Cable Modem thank you.

Why this may not work. (4.66 / 3) (#30)
by Mr.Surly on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 12:05:50 PM EST

Since this legal battle is being held in the US, this shouldn't be a feasable lawsuit. Why? Because in the US, ISPs are not considered to be responsible for the content provided by their users -- they're merely considered a conduit for their users, much in the same way noone would sue the phone company if one of their users was running some sort of scam using the phone.

BT (therefore) needs to seek legal action against the patent infringing individuals (or, more profitably, large corporate websites that are responsible for their own content). <sarcasm>Of course, this idea is ridiculous</sarcasm>

Programs not content (4.00 / 2) (#32)
by Mitheral on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 02:36:47 PM EST

I think you'll find that BT is suing this ISP because they distribute their own Browser which uses hyperlinks which they have patented.

[ Parent ]
OK, I am not a lawyer, but... (3.00 / 3) (#31)
by weirdling on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 12:55:30 PM EST

This seems to be just about the most ridiculous patent I've seen in a while. Just reading it through, it applies to any system in which a terminal connects to a central computer and retrieves information that is linked in any way, so long as there is more than one block of information on the machine. It also applies to any terminal and any caching algorithm employed on said terminal. I don't know how they can enforce this because it's not just the internet; its minitel, BBS machines, Gopher, you name it. This is a *very* broad patent and should be thrown out on the basis of being non-specific.
In US patent law, creating a patent only proves you applied for one. There aren't very many stringent checks simply due to the volume of patents applied for. However, the patent office and the courts can both review and rescind a patent for any of several reasons: prior art, non-specicifity, discovering the invention was non-functional, discovering that the claim is for something that is painfully obvious, etc. Problem is that in order to maximise damages, BT has to prove that these companies *knew* that they held the patent and ignored it. Since it is relatively easily said that the concept of a hyperlink is blindingly obvious, it should rightly be in the public domain. Prior art can easily be demonstrated, as BBS systems were in operation before the patent was lodged. Then, the patent is so broad that any competent court should rescind it categorically. Since BT has never constructed proof-of-concept nor made any significant money off of this patent, it is obvious that it is not their core business, so the patent office has no reason to protect them. There's four reasons I can think of off the top of my had.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Will this patent spur reform of the patent office? (4.60 / 5) (#33)
by fluffy on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 03:15:11 PM EST

But this patent is a *good* thing!

Hopefully BT will sue so many influential corporations over this patent that pressure will be brought to bear upon the patent office not to issue so many (or indeed, any) stupid (software?) patents...?

Rather than having a go at BT, have a go at the patent office who issued the patent. The system as it currently stands is ridiculous - hopefully this is the beginning of the end. BT are doing their level best to destroy the current patent system. Enjoy it. :-)

Microsoft purchases hyperlink patent from BT (1.50 / 2) (#36)
by chuckw on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 12:29:38 PM EST

For immediate release... MSFT - Microsoft purchases hyperlink patent from British Telecom. In a statement to shareholders, Chief Architect, Bill Gates said that this is a welcome addition to their patent on the 1 and the 0 and "We believe that the consumer is the real beneficiary here.". British Telecom officials were unavailable for comment due to an emergency board meeting in Tahiti.

Fry them! Fry them! (1.12 / 8) (#37)
by SPasmofiT on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 12:58:53 PM EST

It's time the americans have a taste of their own mindless legal system... It's about time this "society" of Jerry Springers and Oprahs is put to it's knees by Europe, the real peak of human development (people who think art is more that a picture of Ronald McDonalds)! >;-)

British Telecom sues Prodigy over hyperlink patent | 37 comments (24 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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