Imagine for a moment if every click you made when surfing
the World Wide Web (sic) was subject to a
royalty payment to just one British company. British Telecom is claiming that it
is the de facto inventors of the hyper-link. Links like
this and this are all intellectual
property and therefore should be subject to royalty payments
Well, that is what the head honchos at British Telecom
would have you believe. The actual patent, however, is somewhat vague.
Patent Number 4,873,662 explicitly refers to Remote Terminal and
America's oldest ISP, Prodigy who,
incidentally, is subject to a BT law-suit, argue that the term Remote Terminal
does not apply to modern-day PCs.
BT refutes Prodigy's claim and says, "In the original
patent we use the term 'remote terminal means' which nowadays means PCs,"
Yesterday, BT and
Prodigy were in court where the Judge
explored the definitions of the hyper-link in preparation for what should prove
to be an interesting battle later this year.
I first read about this case in a
article in 2000 and I really couldn't believe it. As Prodigy was the first ISP
of its kind in the USA, I suppose it should come as no surprise that they have
been targeted by BT.
Clearly, it would be an impossible task to try and make
each and every web-site owner hand over money in return for using a
hyper-link. BT has an answer. If BT wins this court case they aim to make every
Internet Service Provider in the United States pay mandatory royalties. The
Patent does not expire until 2006. It seems that the patent they registered in
the UK round about the same time, luckily for some, expired six years ago.
Unsurprisingly, this court case is in dire risk of
exploding in BT's face. Prodigy has a secret weapon. According to
December 9th 1968, Douglas C Engelbart and 17 researchers at the
Augmentation Research Centre, Stanford Research Institute CA, presented a
90-minute live public demo in which hypertext was clearly on show.
If BT wins - they could still lose in the long-run. Those
fed-up ISPs who are forced to pay out could launch successful counter-lawsuits
the basis of which would be product liability.
This court action really says a lot about British Telecom.
It's a company riddled with internal wrangling, `tin pot empires' and greed.
Maybe they should invest all the money they manage to squeeze out of ISPs to
improve their mediocre broadband roll-out. I still haven't sampled the benefits
of ADSL. I still want it. Get your arses in gear. Take of this article what you will, realise at least, that should they win, this represents the scary but very real eventual total commercialisation of what we hold dear to us.
More information can be gleamed by visiting the following
BBC Article dated 11 February
Apologies for the grotesque, somewhat shameless
application of hyper-links. Sue me.