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BT To Enforce Patent On Hyperlinking? 441

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the you-gotta-be-kidding dept.
Bazzargh writes: "This article at nothingventured (annoying but free registration required) says that British Telecom have hired Scipher to enforce (in the US) an old patent -- predating the WWW -- that they hold on the concept of hyperlinking! Apparently they'll be seeking compensation from all ISPs. I've had a look on the IBM Patents Database but I can't see the patent referred to."
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BT to Enforce Patent on Hyperlinking?

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  • This was not the purpose of patents, at least not originally. They were there to promote disclosure.

    Interesting. I do not have my copy of the constitution handy (it's at home), but I vaguely recall verbiage about "promoting" progress. In any event, pro-patent arguments almost always revolve around the mistaken notion that without patents there would be no progress, ie we need patents to promote progress. The argument usually goes something like this:

    1. No one will invent anything or share their ideas with others unless there is a financial reward. (This is demonstrably wrong, as many "inventors" on the internet have demonstrated, only to have their "inventions" hijacked and patented by others. Such hijackings would be impossible without the US patent office).
    2. There can be no financial reward for an invention without the patenting system (this is obviously wrong, inventing and selling a better product will result in financial gain, whether or not you have competition).
    3. The patenting system defends the little guy from having his idea "stolen" by a bigger company. (There are two errors in this assumption: one, that ideas are natural property like physical objects and can be "owned", and two, that the system favors the little guy over the large corporate interest. This is demonstrably false: there are numerous historical incidents in which the patent system was used by corporations to "steal" ideas from the inventor -- many of Thomas Edison's patents were thus obtained, as are most corporate patents today. In addition, it can be trivially shown that, when an individual must face off against a corporation in a patent dispute, the corporation has much deeper pockets with which to persue litigation. In a system of justice like that of the US, where justice is basically cash flow, the individual is at a severe disadvantage and will, on average, lose their claim.)

    Conclusion: Without the patenting system we would have no progress, and the small inventor whould be at the mercy of the big corporate interest.

    The first conclusion is demonstrably false, as can be shown by the rapid progress in computer science which predated software patents, not to mention the numerous inventions which predated the patent system altogether.

    The second conclusion is misdirection at its worst: the sad fact is, the individual is as much, if not more, at the mercy of large corporate interests under the existing patent system than they would be without it.
  • Congratulations England! You have now reached the pinnacle of stupidity previously occupied solely by the US law system. You may now stop flaming us ignorant Americans and join our ranks in trolling, and in making the presumption that we invented everything, and are better than everybody.

    Now that just leaves Canada...
  • Now the question is since it was just described and not built does it count as prior art?

    When has not having a working prototype ever stopped a patent filer?

    Ah... but even if not, then we only need to look to the Stanford Research Institute from the 60's when Englebart et al. showed off their system that included the mouse, and the "gui" with features that were very hypertext like. Now if I could only find the damn link to a description of it. Anyone?

    Searching google, I came up with this [utexas.edu]...
    Your Working Boy,
  • by logistix (152482) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:16AM (#992198)
    Lawyers representing BT have issued a cease and desist letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office citing "hyper-links" available via the "World Wide Web" to the USPTO "Full Text and Image Patent Database"
  • by Carnage4Life (106069) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:16AM (#992200) Homepage Journal
    This specifically deals with documents stored on servers, sent through a PSTN to a terminal. It would seem to me, that if you asked six random people (i.e. the jury in the civil lawsuit) to equate a web server and a browser to a server and a client, they wouldn't do it.

    Why wouldn't they? A webserver is a server, a browser is a way to display stuff on the client.

    I just read the patent three times and cannot believe it. It's a real patent filed for in 1980 long before Tim-Berners-Lee proposed the world wide web [w3.org]. To put it simply British Telecom came up with the idea of hyperlinks first, simply not in the context of HTML, but this does not change the fact that they did. To all those claiming this is a sign that patent reform is forthcoming are probably right but for the wrong reasons, in 1980 this was probably an original idea.


  • I've never seen such a fascistic registration form; it requires your address, phone numberS, SMS email, and what else? It's ridiculous. So i you dont want to go through the hassle, use mine, login:noneofyourbusiness, password:whatever.

    Anyway, that being said, this just shows how ridiculous software patents are. Too bad there isn't more references; I wonder if their patent predates HyperCard. Seems to me there was hyperlink in there, and it dates back from 1985. Is theirs older? If it is, it might just be too old enough anyway.

  • Here is a link to the patent on the IBM patent database.

    I hope you paid a licensing fee for that link.
    ___

  • How is it possible for this to apply to something that didn't exist yet?

    I think an inventor is allowed to patent something that doesn't yet exist.

    If I'm not mistaken, "Velcro" was was patented before it was possible to produce the nylon hooks.
    Unfortunately, Velcro was invented in 1941, and the USPTO database only seems to go back to 1976, so I can't look it up myself.
  • Um, since I wasn't using the net in 1989 I could be wrong, but RFC 1436 (1993) states:

    "This
    document is adapted from the basic Internet Gopher protocol document
    first issued by the Microcomputer Center at the University of
    Minnesota in 1991.
    "

    Which suggests to me that gopher is more recent than 1989.
  • > The government has sold a monopoly, errr.. patent to a company

    How about "Letter of Marque". That's the traditional name for a government-issued predator's license.

    --
  • What in the hell? People today have no scruples. Don't they realize that the only thing that this could possibly do is kill the web? Imagine if you had to pay royalties to put in a hyperlink?

    On that note, though, why are they targetting only ISPs? Couldn't they target every company with a web site?
    --
  • How much are you USians gonna take until the revolution comes?
    --The knowledge that you are an idiot, is what distinguishes you from one.
  • Better solution than nuking Britain would be to distribute some crack with a serious toxin in it, and eliminate anyone who's been to more than one WWF event or been on Jerry Springer, then reassess.

    I think this method is actually being applied in Britain, in Glasgow actually, albeit with Heroin. I guess they have patented it, too? But is there prior art?

  • While it's true that the patent predates the work of the great Tim (shades of Monty Python), it certainly does NOT predate the work of Ted Nelson, the generally acknowledged "inventor" of the hyperlink concept. (Although Nelson himself gives a great deal of credit to Vannevar Bush's pioneering 1930's article "As We May Think", which is likely the first reasonably complete description of these concepts.)

    Nelson's original concept and the coining of the terms "hyperlink" and "hypermedia" are all contained in a paper presented at an ACM conference in 1965! (I tried to read it at the time, but I had a hard time following it since I was only three... [grin])

    Nelson had implementations of the Xanadu hypertext concept running in FORTRAN in the early '70s IIRC.

    Regardless of anyone's claims, it looks quite easy to show prior art should anyone attempt to press any patent claim on hyperlinks.
  • Ok, EVERYBODY OUT!

    Last one out turn off the blink tags!

  • If they sue the isp's, can't we just discontinue their service? </joke>

    ---
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't patents only apply for 17 years after they are granted? 2000-1980 = 20 > 17.

    Glad to correct you.

    It used to be that patents lasted 17 years after they were issued. Some time ago, the U.S. changed the law so that patents lasted for 20 years after filing (the change so that filers were discouraged from slowing down the process and thereby financially benefiting from the maturation of the technology by others).

    For those patents "in process" when the law changed, it was the later of the 2 terms. Elsewhere, someone noted that this patent falls in that transition zone, so that its expiration is 17 years after issuance - 1989 +17 = 2006.

    However, it's still not a patent on web-style hyperlinking.

  • by kd5biv (129563) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:21AM (#992254)
    The idea may have been patented, but "linking" has existed to the earliest days of man. A bit before BT's time! The idea of placing a reference, rather than a complete description, appears in early forms of writing [...]
    More importantly, the exact concept of an embedded link is embodied in the footnote[1], examples of which abound in printed literature, and cross references (see also dictionary, thesaurus) whose uses parallel hyperlinks almost exactly. The only thing new about a hyperlink is that it does the "page flipping," so to speak, for you -- you can go directly to the referenced material with one click -- and I have no intention of paying anyone royalties for the miniscule amount of value added by that feature. The important part of the concept would be recognized by anyone with any sense as prior art in the public domain.

    In an ideal world, the USPTO would laugh this proposal all the way back across the pond. Trouble is, some equally harebrained schemes have already been granted patents, so I don't hold out much hope .. oh well, at least I can still use my radio .. ;-)
  • Douglas Englebart demo'd hyperlinks to a wide audience back in '68. Hell, Vannevar Bush had the concept of a hyperlink with the "memex" concept back in about 1945.

    I think these predate the BT patent by a few years at least.

  • PS: Please be kind to us, after all we did help a little with that small Hitler problem. Thanks.

    I've never understood the 'if it wasn't for us, you limeys would all be speaking German' school of though.

    Let's see:

    • July 1940 Germans start planning Operation Sealion (Invasion of Britain)
    • July 1940 Battle of Britain commences
    • September 1940 Germans abandon invasion of Britain
    • October 1940 Battle of Britain ends
    • December 1940 Brits wipe out Italians in North Africa
    • January 1940 Brits and ANZACs kick shit out of Germans at Tobruk
    • June 1941 Brits and ANZACs retake Syria and Lebanon
    • July 1941 US enters war

    So the idea that if the USA hadn't entered the war, the UK would have been invaded is crap. Sure, the US and Canada helped economically - but many Americans seem to think that Hitler was still trying to invade in July 1941 - he wasn't - he was fucked on three fronts (North Africa, Russia and the middle East) and he knew it.

    Nick

  • by technos (73414) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:21AM (#992259) Homepage Journal
    The patent was filed in 1980. It was granted, after additions and such, in 1989..

    It's supposed to reduce the complexity of communication protocols, as well as reduce the document overhead transferred across the dialup..

    Fortunatly, I believe Ted Nelson (of Xanadu) demonstrated a very similar system three years earlier. He'd been working on it since 1960, and was a prolific writer, so there is surely some hypothetical discussion of systems covered by this patent somewhere in recent antiquity..

    Minitel may also predate the patent, with its linked MGS. They were rolled out in 82-83, but development was probably three to five years earlier (Telecom companies are notoriously slow!)

    Besides, ISPs have no interest in licensing this; They provide text content, which is only intrepreted by the terminal (AIEE, Nutscrape, Opera). This patent covers hyperlinking and the terminal. The ISP does not infringe, therefore licensing is moot..
  • (cave paintings are essentially URLs to the animals being hunted),

    That's stretching it a bit. Actualy, thats streching it a lot.
  • by CharmQuark (200261) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:51AM (#992268)
    Assuming that the patent link is correct, I am not going to lose any sleep over this. The way we hyperlink works nothing like the patent describes; even with the 'subject to change clause' only specifically addresses the block lengths. I do not think that any relation can be justified.

    First of all, the patent covers a custom terminal, with multiple ROM and RAM areas, and keypads hardwired to signal generators for modems. We have details about what type of information goes into what memory segment, what the ROM contains, and even the timing between the display and the memory.

    For instance, the patent clearly states that the display text will be in the first transmission block, and will be loaded into one memory area, while the 'hidden information' will be in second block and will be loaded into another memory area. To the contrary, we all know that HTML is embedded, and all information is loaded into the same memory area. Once it is loaded, the appropriate text and graphics is generated for the displayed.

    To Quote: "In the operation of the system shown, when a block of which is to be displayed is transmitted by the computer 1 to the terminal and routed to the memory A. The second part of the selected block is transferred to special memory B included in the computer 1 and associated with the input channel of the computer to which the terminal is connected"

    The issue of the keyboard is also a problem. Not only is the keyboard used to communicate, but also it appears that they keyboard would be hardwired, though some signal generators, to memory and to the modem, or at least the acoustic coupler. Certainly T1 lines are not modems.

    To quote: "Inputs from an operator to the terminal apparatus are entered by means of a key pad 12 which is connected to a signal generator 13 producing signals which after modulation in the modem 6 are transmitted via the isolation and protection circuits 5 and the switch 3 to the line 2, and through that line to the computer 1."

    About the only problem I see is that they do talk about an index, which is probably the paragraph that all their lawyers will cite. Again, it only uses a keyboard, and again explicitly states the area of memory(the control area rather than the text area) that the address will be retrieved form. This statement is a bit fuzzy, but the intent is there.

    To quote: "The complete reference (i.e. address) of the index items could be displayed on the screen and the operator could be required to press a number of keys on the pad 12 to select a particular item. However, it would be simpler for the operator if the items of the index displayed were simply numbered, say, from 1 to 9 so that all the operator had to do was to press a single key on the pad 12 to select a particular item"

    Overall, this sounds more like a custom terminal hooked up to text retrieval service through an X25 line or something like that rather than a GPC connected to the Internet. Even then Kermit would probably do a better job than what they describe.

  • by kfg (145172) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:23AM (#992274)
    Ok, I've read the patent. What it describes is a dialup dumb terminal retreiveing packet information from central information database on a computer.

    The patent specifies a dumb terminal, and that the conection be done over a phone line. It claims rights to the dumb terminal, the CRT or "other obviously similar device* ( my paraphrase), the packet system of sending the information and the interface to make it easy to use for non computer users.

    This isn't a patent for hyperlinks, it's a patent for WebTV!

    Seriously, that's all it describes.

    The CRT is obviosly prior art. So they arn't going to try to go for that. The packet system was already in use on the internet in 1989 and has its genesis in Hedy Lamar's spread spectrum broadcasting patent, which expired ages ago, so they can't go over that. Bell had the phone lines tied up a century ago, so they can't go after that. Dumb terminals have been around nearly as long as computers, so they can't go after THAT.

    So, they're left with the interface and try to stretch that into hyperlinks, which noone really understands anyway, so maybe they'll get away with it?

    Come on guys. You're pushing it here. Go after WebTV.

    As for me, I'm using a computer, not a dumb terminal, and I'm accessing information over digital cable. Not even covered by your patent which specifically states the use of phone lines. Not even in your vague references to "other obviously similar" catchall.

    Go away. You're bothering us.
  • It is an old patent - I can see why they are going after ISPs - it's the only way they can enforce it (because it calls out the use of a modem). It also sais that hyperlinks are selected with a keypad - not a mouse - how are they going to FIND anyone who actually meets these requirements.

    I think they are going to end up with a PR nightmare .... they are going to find out that they've targetted the BLIND.

  • Back in 1986 Micrsoft Introduced the Programmers Reference Library. M$ was running this as a special with an Amdek CD-Rom player. It had documents on line, with links to other place in the same or other documents.

    Remember the Norton Guides? They had the same thing as a TSR.

  • You're sort of right, and sort of wrong. Patents are on ways of implementing ideas. Specific implementations are covered by copyright.

    You're sort of wrong. The cotton gin was not and could not be covered by copyright. It is not a published work. Further, the patent on the cotton gin meant that no one could make competing cotton gins (though this wasn't enforced all that well, and Whitney wasn't amused IIRC). Thus it was not merely the idea that was covered by the patent, but the implementation as well.

  • by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:57AM (#992290) Homepage Journal
    The patent was filed in 1980. It was granted, after additions and such, in 1989.

    The Register disagrees. It claims [theregister.co.uk] that the patent was filed (presumably in the UK) in 1976, which puts it before Xanadu went public. However, note that the BT patent covers hyperlinks which 'would be selected by the operation of a selected key of the keyboard.'. So by my understanding you're OK if you use a mouse.

  • In the 80's, BT was very big on prestel, which was their own private BBS type affair with teletext control codes doing the display.

    In teletext, in band characters are used to display formatting, such as change colour, switch character set, and presumably add links.

    An example, if you wished to put the sentence "the red bird" on the screen, with the word red in red, then you'd send the(codeForRed)red(CodeForWhite)bird. The two control codes would be displayed as spaces, and you'd get what you wanted. It was a way to minimize the memory required to store screens back in the days when memory was very expensive.

    These control codes were refered to as blocks, because that's what they became on the screen, blocks of space.

  • Be careful. There are advantages to being able to sue without playing the lawyers costs. Right now If I sue O.J. Simpson he will get the best lawyers money can buy, and odds are win the case no matter the merits of it. Then I would have to pay his lawyers fees, even though if he had hired normal (not the best) lawyers I would have won. We don't want to be in the situation where those with money cannot be sued because they will get the best lawyers without having to pay.

    At the same time I agree we need reform. We need to get those sue friviously to pay. If my lawsuit against Mr. Simpson was because he thought about killing my cat, of course I should pay for this lawyers, no matter what the cost. If I sue because he put his SUV in 4 low, and drove all over my flower beds, even though I lose the case due to his expensive lawyers, the judge should determin that I had a chance of winning and decide that I don't owe lawyers fees, adding insult to injury.

  • this sounds a lot like television text services, not the web. it's clear the user is expected to key in a number on a keypad to access a relevant page of information. oh and it has to be across phone lines. So I guess we can leave number-accessed teletext services over phone lines for them to make a fortune from (ha) . Of course BT's claim would be stronger if they'd ever gotten off their fat corporate behind and developed the damned thing, but this ridiculous case fits their MO as the simply biggest impediment to technological advancement in Europe in this or the last century.
  • The article [theonion.com] you were referring to was on The Onion [theonion.com]. The Onion article was satire though, while this appears to be genuine.

    Brandon.
  • by jeff_bond (135948) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:47AM (#992307) Homepage
    Here [164.195.100.11] is a link to the patent on the IBM patent database.

    Jeff

  • Hyperlinking started at least as early as Hypercard, maybe earlier. As someone pointed out, analog versions of linking go back thousands of years.
  • "Hello, is that Mr A. Gore, Cloud Cuckoo Land? This is the USTPO here, we'd like to grant you a patent..."

    - Andy R.

  • by gotan (60103) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:15AM (#992312) Homepage
    It seems to me, that this patent covers anything, where you use an input mechanism on a kind of "index" at a client to make a server come up with changing your display according to what that index refers to. (If they already extend this patent to cover WWW-links they have to extend "keyboard" to "input mechanism" to include mose, "terminal" has to be extended to any form of client, "phone line" has to be extended to any means of connection).

    So surely this patent covers any client-server information access using any form of index like electronic library catalogues or any other form of electronically indexed database if only it has some form of visible index (this actually matches the description in the patent much closer).

    It would also cover configuring the server side of a terminalconnection or any aplication running on a server the terminal is connected to via an option menu. This too is a much better match to the patents wording, small wonder, since the patent was thought of with a "one server, many dumb terminals" structure in mind.

    Now it is very strange indeed, that the patent holders never tried for lincense fees from all those libraries, or anyone with a server-terminals structure setup for that matter. Maybe it was too easy then to dig up prior art. Or maybe they just got inspired by the Rambus Toshiba deal [slashdot.org] and just wait for someone who's paying before thinking.
  • This is like the memex [kerryr.net] posited by Vannevar Bush. It was a system to organize all of your notes based upon a pre-hyperlink concept. It would be a series of documents on supermicrofische accessable by record numbers like the hyperlinks of today. Very cool, but I don't know if it is invalidating.
  • Food for thought?

    Nurture ideas and creativity

    Entertain concepts

    Develop and challenge theories

    Reward genuine effort

    Celebrate delivery

    and learn from mistakes

    You should have to prove delivery before reaping rewards from patents. Where the benefit to society can be measured and is deemed to exceed the benefits to the invididual (read company), the reward should be distributed to society rather than to the individual.

    Note, I do not use the words protect, restrict, punish, blame, profit or bureacracy.

    --Rob.

  • You can lose the right to enforce a patent against A SPECIFIC VIOLATION if you do not enforce it against that person for [n] years (I believe it's three years) after finding out that they're violating the patent, but you don't lose the patent in the case of all other violations.

    That person or entity might, however, need to purchase a license for future use if he makes new use of the infringing technology. I'll let a real patent lawyer tackle that ball of wax.

    -E

  • Since when did it become possible to patent an idea? I've always thought patents were supposed to be for specific inventions. That why the patent office used to collect all the old models of the inventions.

    That's also how companies get around patents of physical inventions. They find another way to do the same thing .

    Seem like most of the contentious patent stories that show up on slashdot have to do with the patenting of ideas. I mean if Alexander Graham Bell had patented the idea of communicating remotely, rather than the telephone, it would have covered two way radio, possible television, email, ect. The only way around it would have been if someone had patented letter writing or the telegraph.
  • "We will be inviting ISP's in the U.S. to licence that technology from us."

    Wow, I wonder how many people will get in on the ground floor of this revolutionary technology. I know that I'll accept the invitation. Oh, wait a minute...
  • There's no way this can be right. I thought that the idea of a hyperlink has been around since the late 60's? Xanadu or something????
  • by Compenguin (175952) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:49AM (#992330)
    The government has sold a monopoly, errr.. patent to a company for an odvious technology

    -Compenguin
  • Oops! Mistook the filing date ('80) for the dated granted ('89). IIRC, Allan Touring had some opinions on the matter which influenced Bush as well...it's been a while since I've delved into the origins of the GUI. Hell, when you think about it, some Usenet readers and BBSs store and retrieve information along lines uncomfortably close to the BT patent, as does any program that acts as a front end interface for a database.

    SoupIsGood Food
  • The patent is very clear -- it applies to computer systems where data is transmitted via the public telephone network.

    Thats probably why they're only targeting ISP's.
  • $500/yr is NOTHING compared to some of the benefits that come from just holding the patent.

    Good God!

    You're right, $500/year is nothing, especially given that today's standard procedure with patent enforcement is to not enforce the patent for a period of time and encourage people to use it, then surprise everyone years later (when it has become a de-facto standard a la GIF and MP3) with demands for royalties. Obviously, BT had an extra nine years to persue this strategy, with possibly catastrophic results for the internet.

    Another example of the patenting system not only being unnecessary for innovation, but downright destructive to the entire innovative process.

    It is past time for the patent office to be closed and the entire system to be scrapped.
  • It is a patent regarding terminals. Specifically, links to what they refer to as "blocks". "Blocks" that can control things such as the color on a terminal. I'm assuming that doesn't mean filesystem blocks.. so what exactly is it referring to?

    The language of the patent clearly releates to teletext. I don't know if you had/have this in the states, but it is a system which sends text pages either in the scan-lines at the beginning of a television frame or in simple dialup systems like the French Minitel or BT's own Prestel. The system is page-oriented, which is what is meant by a 'block' (40 columns by 25 lines of text and crude block graphics).

    What I understand this patent to mean is that non-displayed information sent with a page could be used to select further pages which would then be requested from the server. So I think that it does describe hyperlinks adequately. I'm inclined to agree that the patent probably shouldn't have been granted (but if Xanadu was still under wraps at the time you can't claim it as prior art).

  • by mosch (204) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:20AM (#992348) Homepage
    cipherpunk/cipherpunk

    (you're welcome)
    ----------------------------
  • by lavorgeous (191087) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:20AM (#992350)

    The patent says that (paraphrased) the link text is the first part, the address is the second part.

    In HTML, the address (HREF attribute) comes first, then the link text.

    May seem silly, but Motorola patented cell-phones with flip-down microphones. So what did the competition do? They created cell-phones with flip-up earpieces.

    I know I'm nit-picking, but maybe it'll work. Any thoughts?

  • Okay I just checked out Xanadu [xanadu.net] and agree that I was wrong, it seems that they have Prior Art [google.com]. I also looked at Xanadu's paper to the ACM [xanadu.com] and noticed that several references go back to 1965 or earlier. Could someone please email this link to info@scipher.com [mailto] and explain to them why taking on BT's case was a lost cause.

  • That this is just another case where a company has IP that resembles some heavily used technology and is trying a fast one.

    What about Apple's Hypertext product from the mid 80's? That used hyperlinks out the yang.

  • Or here it is:

    RPT: BT to seek to exercise hyperlink patent in U.S. through Scipher
    19/06/2000 13:26:41

    LONDON (AFX) - British Telecommunications PLC has employed Scipher PLC to exercise a historic patent on hyperlinks, the technology whereby internet sites cross-link to each other, to U.S. internet service providers, Scipher said today.

    Dr Ken Gray, chairman of Scipher, said that BT claims to have patented the hyperlink technology in doing their work on information retieval systems, which is used extensively throughout the navigation of the World Wide Web.

    He said the patent predates the HTML standard that currently exists.

    "On behalf of BT we are attempting to licence (hyperlink technology), and inviting licences to be taken out by ISPs in the States," Gray said.

    "We will be inviting ISP's in the U.S. to licence that technology from us."

  • I wouldn't bother to correct this, but when sorted by score, this comes out as the third or fourth post in the story. As a result, it should be corrected.
    Anyway- to my point- Not to flame or anything, but many, many people in this discussion have pointed out that hyperlinks were a novel idea, not in 1980 (when BT "invented" it), but in 1960. Check out xanadu.net for more details. If 20 years doesn't a) qualify as "prior art" and b) disqualify you as "original" then I don't know what does.
    ~luge
  • Username: cypherpunks
    Password: cypherpunks
  • See also:

    l:cypherpunks p:cypherpunks

    8)
  • In the US it is entirely different of course... if someone else invents something but you steal the idea and stick a few grand down- the idea is now legally yours and you can successfully sue the person who invented it!

    Accually that is how the patent system works in almost every country except the US. Over here if you invent something (that is patentable) you legally own the patent no matter who pays for the registration. All you need is to have your lawyers go after whoever filed for the patent. If you have no money you simply prove to a compititor that you invented it first, sell them a license, and then they will pay the lawyer fees for you. Not exactly of course, I think you will then need to file for the patent and there are a bunch of other laws.

    Point is, the US is the only country that protects the little inventor. Everyone else protects those with big bucks who file for a patent on everything they see.

  • Eminent domain [feri.org] is starting to be the *only* answer for things like this, and this [slashdot.org].
  • by TheDullBlade (28998) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:53AM (#992389)
    How dare they choose to sue the ISPs!

    Obviously, the people writing the browsers are the ones who are infringing on the patent.

    They must sue MS! We must make this clear to them!

    (cypherpunk, cypherpunk seems to work here, too)
  • The UK patent was filed for in 1976 and granted in 1980, but the protection of law for it only extended until 1996. They're not going after UK ISPs. They can't. However, the US patent was applied for in 1980 and granted in 1989, so the protection of law extends until sometime between 2003 and 2006. (I'm not sure which; They passed a series of reform laws in the early eighties that may apply to 'pending' patents. )

    Xanadu went public with a release in 1977. There is academic description and active work as far back as 1972. It covered nearly every aspect of the patent, and those not covered can be clearly seen as obvious to anyone ordinarily skilled in the art.

    The 'selected key' language in the patent make it obvious that they sought a system that used function shortcut keys, i.e. "Press pf12 for bass.ale.txt". No incarnation of any HTML browser has used this feature. Even the earliest incarnations of the WC3 browsers used tab stops.

    Also, the notion of the 'central server' over POTS lines does not seem to apply here. Even when there is an actual modem connection (as per patent) there is never a central server. The terminal depends on the single central server (predetermined address) and can not be said to apply to a system where the address is not predetermined.
  • by FreeUser (11483) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:30AM (#992391)
    To all those claiming this is a sign that patent reform is forthcoming are probably right but for the wrong reasons, in 1980 this was probably an original idea/

    Looking at the patent [164.195.100.11], I see that it was granted in 1989, 9 years (!!) after it was filed.

    What an obscenety.

    What the hell was the patent office doing sitting on this for nine year! If it had been granted in 1980, the patent would have expired in 1997 and this wouldn't even be an issue. Patents have long since outlived their purpose -- the market encourages innovation without government enforced monopolies. I don't know if this particular abuse will lead to reform or not, but even if it does, reforming the patenting system will simply mean tweaking a broken and destructive system such that the net negative effects become tolerable to a majority. It will still be a millstone around our collective neck, perhaps with a few pounds chipped off to appease us but still weighing us all down.
  • This used to be the case, but in order to bring U.S. patent law in line with international standards (agreed to during the Uruguay round of GATT), Public Law No. 103-465 (December 8, 1994, the "Uruguay Round Agreements Act") changed the term of all U.S. patents from 17 years from the date of issuance to 20 years from the date of filing.

    What this means is that the stalling "trick" you mention is no longer possible in the U.S.; holding up the issuance of a patent is no longer of any benefit to the patent holder.

    The BT patent, though, was issued before the law changed, and thus is valid for 17 years from when it was issued in 1989.

    See the USPTO website [uspto.gov] for details.

  • by pen (7191) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:53AM (#992413)
    l:slashdotuser p:freelogin

    --

  • So the idea that if the USA hadn't entered the war, the UK would have been invaded is crap.

    The UK was only able to fight in 1939-1940 because the US had been loaning it massive sums of money --- which was politically unpopular, and got a lot of people pissed off at Roosevelt.
  • by Masem (1171) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:37AM (#992427)
    I recently learned that the person or company that issues a patent can 'indefinitely' extend the finalization of the patent process (that is, the move of the patent from being applied for to being accepted), by 'forgetting' to apply for some form to the USPTO, thus having a fine of $500 to be paid to the USPTO, and thus holding the patent in limbo for another year. $500/yr is NOTHING compared to some of the benefits that come from just holding the patent.
  • When you post an article about a patent, remember to include the patent number. The links given either require registration or don't lead anywhere useful. Thanks.
  • by Farq Fenderson (135583) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:55AM (#992430) Homepage
    And for those of you who don't wish to register at the news site, the l/p: anoncoward/anoncoward phenomenon is now in effect...
    ---
    script-fu: hash bang slash bin bash

  • Dear England,

    Every so sorry to inform you again, that we are not interested in paying taxes to you. I thought we made that clear in Boston. Again, I'm so sorry the message was not clear. That is something I cannot apologize for enough. Sorry, sorry, and sorry.

    What I have trouble uderstanding is that after killing so many of your "red coats", how did we leave you with the idea in mind that we still wanted to be taxed. I fear we, here in the "states", are not good at communication.

    Never the less, do have you people speak to ours. We'll setup a meeting, and "do lunch" as they say.

    PS: Please be kind to us, after all we did help a little with that small Hitler problem. Thanks.

    -- With love,
    The States
  • by FFFish (7567) on Monday June 19, 2000 @09:39AM (#992432) Homepage
    There's all sorts of talk about how the US Government might step in and screw the DOJ's antitrust suit, because Microsoft is such a big part of the US economy that you can't afford to have MS hurt.

    How much more so if the WWW is shut down! The US economy would just tank: all that e-business disappearing. Sales of pron, books, computer crap, auctions -- all stopped!

    There's no way BT should ever have received a patent on hyperlinking, particularly in the USA, where there was plenty of prior art!

    The US Government may finally be *FORCED* to deal with the joke that is the US Patent Office.

    And *that* might save us all.

    I figure either this is all a hoax, or BT is trying to help put an end to Internet patent stupidity. :-)

    --
  • Patent applications provide no exclusive rights whatsoever. Thus, until the patent has issued, the applicant owns nothing.
  • any longer. Patents applied for in the US, and almost anywhere else in the world, are subject to a term beginning the date the PATENT HAS ISSUED, and ending twenty years after the APPLICATION HAD BEEN FILED.

    Pushing back so-called submarine patents was the primary focus of recent patent reform legislation.
  • "This invention relates to an information handling system in which information is derived from a computer at a remote point and transmitted via the public telephone network to terminal apparatus. The invention also includes the terminal apparatus itself. "

    That last line is the kicker. As I understand it, the bitmapped CRT display predates the 1989 date of this patent. Game Over. Please don't play again BT.

  • by cwhicks (62623) on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:56AM (#992451)
    Damnit! Reading this just cost me $.03! I hope I can make it back to my own server in less than $1.75.
  • It seems offensive to me that just an idea can be patented. As other people have pointed out elsewhere, ideas are cheap and a dime-a-dozen. What's difficult is getting a working implementation of a good idea.

    Patents should be restricted, at the very least, to demonstrated, working models.
  • Ted Nelson started on hyperlinking (In fact, he came up with the term in the first place!) in 1960 and had been attempting to develop it with micropayments since that time- hit www.xanadu.net for details of the history.
  • No, it's because the USPTO were the only national patent office dumb enough to award a patent.
  • Re teletext

    I don't know if you had/have this in the states, but it is a system which sends text pages either in the scan-lines at the beginning of a television frame or in simple dialup systems like the French Minitel or BT's own Prestel.

    Similar things exist in the US, such as closed-captioning. The bandwidth used for most data services in the US that transmit over NTSC-based TV signals is the "vertical blanking interval." I once set up a special modem which dumped to a fax machine with faxes of the NYT delivered via VBI.

    I don't think this is terribly common now, or ever really caught on, except for such systems as closed-captioning for the deaf. I'm not sure whether CC systems use the VBI or some other unused area of the TV signal.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Monday June 19, 2000 @07:59AM (#992483) Homepage Journal
    An infuriating talking yellow cartoon bird at least didn't give with one claw and rip away with the other.

    This has GOT to be the most blatant scam BT has pulled in a long time. It's certainly comparable to their 35 GBP connect charges + time charges + packet charches + phone charges, for their early rival to the Internet, the International Packet Switch Stream.

    The idea may have been patented, but "linking" has existed to the earliest days of man. A bit before BT's time! The idea of placing a reference, rather than a complete description, appears in early forms of writing, early naming systems (ever wondered how people got the surname of Cook, Baker, Smith, etc?), early artwork (cave paintings are essentially URLs to the animals being hunted), myths and legends (cross-references are everywhere in that stuff), and even appears in early architecture.

    So, unless the patent can be shown to have been granted 10,000 years ago, in which case I'd check it's expiry date, it has been in common usage prior to the patent being granted, which is grounds for dismissal of the patent.

  • According to this link [web.uvic.ca], "Dream Machines" was published in 74. So it predates even the UK version of this patent, and should be good prior art.

    Paul.

  • > ...our "cut the military spending" tree-hugging government...

    ...which spends as much on so-called "defense" as the rest of the world's armies put together. Some bunch of tree-huggers. As far as "cutting military spending," both parties in the U.S.A., this madhouse of fraud, are working up right now to flush tens and maybe hundreds of billions of dollars right down the toilet to buy a ballistic missile defense that will never ever work. You have to understand that these political gentlemen plan to get maybe one percent of that vast public subsidy back from the arms vendors as bribes, I mean campaign contributions. Even decades ago, Dwight Eisenhower was on to these con men. Go ahead and call him a tree-hugging lib'rul with an unrealistic understanding of warfare.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • by paRcat (50146)
    ok, apparently this [164.195.100.11] is the patent. Two things that bother me:

    1) It is a patent regarding terminals. Specifically, links to what they refer to as "blocks". "Blocks" that can control things such as the color on a terminal. I'm assuming that doesn't mean filesystem blocks.. so what exactly is it referring to?

    2) It was filed August 15, 1980. How is it possible for this to apply to something that didn't exist yet? I mean, the patent covers a link that controls things like color on a terminal. Hyperlinks consist of addresses to other computers. Hyperlinks don't control the browser at all, they just allow a computer to connect to another. HTML controls what the browser displays.

    So what's the deal?

  • From the patent: a central computer means in which plural blocks of information are stored at respectively corresponding locations, each of which locations is designated by a predetermined address therein by means of which a block can be selected, each of said blocks comprising a first portion containing information for display and a second portion containing information not for display but including the complete address for each of plural other blocks of information;

    now I could be wrong, but I can't see this being HYPERTEXT unless all the links are in a block at the end of the file - surely a pretty restricted patent?
    --

  • Some British company, and some goofy story about how they are going to use patents to destory the web in their attempt to own it.

    Thought I was reading The Register for a second =)
  • The idea of hyperlinking can actually be traced back to the reading of the Koran, cross-referenced with the writings of prophets. When one reads the Koran, you switch between the main text and the subtexts fluently. Hypertext links.

    (thats the rough ida, perhaps someone with a more in-depth knowledge of Islam would care to add....)
  • Unfortunately, I don't think this is the case.

    Q:How long did Unisys not enforce the LZW patent before deciding that their patent had been infringed?

    A:Until somebody with cash (Microsoft) started making a web browser that displayed GIF images compressed with their patented algorithm.

  • by gwalla (130286) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:08AM (#992529) Homepage

    ...of the attempt to enforce a patent on browser status bars a few years ago? That fell through, and this will, too. We have nothing to fear from this. The government wouldn't dare enforce this, because there's too much money invested in the Internet right now.

    Which is a problem, if you think about it. The government will only pay attention to freedoms on the web whule there's money in it. And that's why the economic downturn among the dotcoms is bad (along with the unemployment it will cause, of course). As soon as it doesn't look like the Internet is creating multimillionaires capable of donating large amounts of cash to campaigns, and they can't be accused of stifling business opportunities (the businesses having already stifled themselves, and the opportunities having dried up), Congress will move to establish as much control as possible.


    ---
    Zardoz has spoken!
  • (sorry - caught the submit when I tried to preview :+)

    From the patent:
    a central computer means in which plural blocks of information are stored at respectively corresponding locations, each of which locations is designated by a predetermined address therein by means of which a block can be selected, each of said blocks comprising a first portion containing information for display and a second portion containing information not for display but including the complete address for each of plural other blocks of information;

    now I could be wrong, but I can't see this being HYPERTEXT unless all the links are in a block at the end of the file - and all the destinations are on the same server. Surely a pretty restricted patent?
    --

  • I started working for BT (Horwood House) in '82, and we were well familiar with BT's use of hyperlinking at that time -- Prestel was a really cutting edge solution. 8-)

    OTOH, we were still jealous of Xanadu, as they'd invented all the good stuff a few years before us, and we knew it.

  • 1945 Vannevar Bush proposes Memex in his article "As We May Think".
    1965 Ted Nelson introduces Xanadu and coins the term hypertext.
    1967 Andries van Dam develops the Hypertext Editing System at Brown University, followed by the introduction of FRESS in 1968.
    1968 Doug Engelbart gives a demo of NLS, a part of the Augment project, started in 1962.
    1975 A team at CMU, headed by Robertson, develops the ZOG system, which later becomes KMS.
    1978 A team at MIT, headed by Andrew Lippman, develops the Aspen Movie Map, the first true example of a multimedia application including videodisk.

    [Bush, 1945]. Bush, Vannevar. "As We May Think" The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945.

    [Nelson, 1965]. Nelson, Ted. "A File Structure for the Complex, The Changing and The Indeterminate" ACM 20th National Conference, 1965.

    [Nelson, 1980]. Nelson, Ted. "Replacing the Printed Word: A Complete Literary System" Information Processing '80, 1980.

    I could cite a lot more sources, but most can be found at:

    http://members.brabant.chello.nl/~g.vandijnsen/j .h.veenstra/hypermedia/review.html

    Johan V.
  • Patents have long since outlived their purpose -- the market encourages innovation without government enforced monopolies
    This was not the purpose of patents, at least not originally. They were there to promote disclosure. If you were prepared to publish your idea, you got a time-limited monopoly. I'm not saying that the system still makes sense, but this was the original logic.
  • Obviously, the patent system has gotten out of hand lately. We all know that. This may be just the thing to get it fixed, though, and I suspect that may be what BT is doing. If so, kudos to them.

    Do you honestly think that AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Earthlink, etc. will actually start paying royalties to British Telecom for something as lame as hyperlinks?!? Hell no. They're huge companies with a large influence in the federal government, and if they all get hit with this, I have no doubt that the patent system will be changed.

    --

  • by nstrug (1741) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:04AM (#992554) Homepage
    Dear States,

    If you're so keen on avoiding patent payments to foreign-owned compaies, why do you award them patents?

  • um like the gopher protocol did this back way before 1989. I don't think we have anything to worry about here.

  • I can see one of a few scenarios occuring...

    The ISPs all laugh and go about their business, assuming that BT wouldn't sue them all.

    The ISPs point their finger at W3C and say, "We were just using THEIR spec. THEY told us it was OK."

    The courts show that for well over 10 years British Telecom was NOT enforcing its patent, and therefore loses any royalties gained from its use.

    BT spends a few million pursuing this lawsuit, we all have a good laugh, and get on with our lives.

    BT spends several million, lobbies for several years, and causes millions of people to volunteer their computer and bandwidth to the most massive DDOS attack ever conceived, targetting any computer related to BT attached to the internet, and simply kick them off by force. (ie, mark their report card, "Doesn't play nice with others.")

    No matter what happens though, I doubt we'll have to change anything more than our terminology. I don't hyperlink. I just annotate my pages with relevant information, which may, or may not, be found on another page. These marks are made in english, and some browsers convert the marking to a highlight and automatically go to my reference if the marking is clicked. (sorry, I guess BT with have to go after people who make browsers now...)

    -Adam

    "For example,
    after I [found] myself being attacked by csh,
    csh was shot by friendly fire from behind,
    possibly by tcsh or xv,
    and my session was abruptly terminated. "
    Dennis Chao on the new machine process management utility, "Doom"

  • the claims granted on the application are limited to claims supported by the subject matter disclosed at the time of filing. The applicant is not permitted to add new matter to the specification by amendment. The specification must be fully enabling of the claims, which is to say, it must state the subject matter of the invention in terms sufficient to enable a person of only ordinary skill to practice the claimed invention.

    For these reasons, a claim derived from an enabling disclosure is invalidated only by prior art antedating the date of filing.
  • by GoNINzo (32266) <GoNINzo@@@yahoo...com> on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:05AM (#992572) Homepage Journal
    Someone posted the link to the patent here [164.195.100.11]. This one was filed in 1980 and finished in 1989, and seems to imply simplifying the use of the OS and using the network. I'm not sure if this is the correct patent, because I see several 'issues' with it as relating to hyperlinks.

    It seems like the guy had a very specific use of these links, coresponding to function keys and modems. The use of a modem is implied in all manners, with only references to using the 'telephone network'. In fact, the term 'modem' is used 18 times, while the term 'telephone network' is used 7 times. However, the idea of a data network or a LAN is completely missed under this patent.

    Hence, only ISP's might be liable to the usage of this patent. IE, people using a 'modem' as it was in those days, MOdulation-DEModulation. Those of us on ISDN, cable, ADSL, and com-grade services are not affected. `8r)

    Don't patents expire after a certain amount of time? I know if they go after a company like AOL, they will be caught up in court until the patent expires. and if it expires from when it was first filed, it's already been 20 years.

    It'd be pretty funny to have someone say 'You cannot use a modem any more to access the internet' forcing everyone to upgrade to another type of high speed connection though. that wouldn't be a bad thing for our society, IMHO. Cheap, easy frame relay drops for everyone!

    --
    Gonzo Granzeau

  • Everybody remember when Wang tried to use their 1988-issued videotex patent to get royalties on web browsers in 1998? No? Look here [mozilla.org] for the Mozilla.org description of the lawsuit, here [ibm.com] for the patent, and here [mozilla.org] for the Mozilla.org description of its dismissal.

    Now, it says that BT is going to go after ISPs on this. Well, AOL (including Netscape) is the biggest one around, and the Netscape lawyers were sent tons of prior art during the Wang case. I rather doubt BT is going to have a chance on this...

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:06AM (#992579)
    Any Mac afficionado worth her single-button mouse knows the name Vannevar Bush and his concept of hypermedia, which detailed most of what's covered in that patent, only this was well before the second world war. Ted Nelson has worked for most of the second half of the twentieth century bringing Bush's vision into fruition using computer science. The technology he developed is called "hypertext", and has been implemented in everything from the old Xerox Star to the Apple's Hypercard. Hypercard has been around since '87, and does pretty much what the BT patent describes.

    Prior art, bay-bee! Can't wait to see the AOL (doing GUI-centric internetworking before internetworking was cool) lawyers put the smack-down on these idiots.

    SoupIsGood Food

  • by DebtAngel (83256) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:07AM (#992587) Homepage
    <b>IANAL</b>, but you would know that two sentences in.

    This specifically deals with documents stored on servers, sent through a PSTN to a terminal. It would seem to me, that if you asked six random people (i.e. the jury in the civil lawsuit) to equate a web server and a browser to a server and a client, they wouldn't do it. Especially if one of them has a cable modem.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Personally, I think Microsoft should buy Nothern Telecom - that way they can say they invented the hyperlink, just like they invented the Symbolic Link!

    Then hopefully they will go on to prove that black is white and Steve Ballmer (I don't feel like picking on Bill Gates any more - it's too easy) will get killed at the next zebra crossing.

  • by Wee (17189) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:13AM (#992591)
    From the IBM Patents DB [164.195.100.11]:
    This invention relates to an information handling system in which information is derived from a computer at a remote point and transmitted via the public telephone network to terminal apparatus. The invention also includes the terminal apparatus itself.
    Now, I'm not a lawyer, but the patent mentions phone lines, central servers, and "terminal apparatus" quite a bit. Which doesn't sound like the WWW at all. Sounds a lot more like gopher to me.

    Anyway, they would have to claim that the "phone lines" are the Net's backbone, the "central server" is anyone with Apache running, and the "terminal apparatus" is the browser.

    Here's some more that makes it sound distincntly unWWW-like:

    It has been proposed to provide for domestic and/or business consumers a simplified form of computer terminal by means of which information stored in a computer can be obtained from it via the public telephone network. The form of the terminal is different from a conventional computer terminal, both in the simplicity of its operation and in the form of its display.

    ...
    the screen in the form of a sequence of progressively more detailed indices by means of which an operator is enabled to key-in to a key pad provided for the terminal numbers identifying a particular page of information which he requires. Since the system is to be operated by unskilled operators it is important that the key required be of self-evident nature and inevitably this will restrict the nature of facilities which the computer can provide.

    Difficulties arise in such a system, however, because of the need to ensure the simplicity of operation of the terminal, bearing in mind the likelihood that the significance of particular keying inputs may need to be varied in dependence on the data being displayed.

    It is an object of the present invention to alleviate the above difficulty.

    Now tell me that sounds like the concept of hyperlinking. I don't think so. The only thing they even came close to getting right was the part about "the system is to be operated by unskilled operators". There's no arguing with that.

    I really hope we can get some US patent reform. Does anyone know of a decent movement to let our US representatives know how silly this has all become? I mean, everyone smells money in the "digital goldrush", and so they do inane thingsd like attempt patent enforcements like this. But everyone forgets that the only people to make a lasting living off the California Goldrush 1800's were the guys selling food and equipment to the miners (ever wonder where Levi's Jeans came from?). Everyone would be much better off letting the WWW do what it wants while concentrating on becoming the one that facillitates those goals.

    This whole thing blows.

    -B

  • by daiw (111835) on Monday June 19, 2000 @08:15AM (#992619)
    The Patent [164.195.100.11] reads
    For example, the second part of the block could include information for providing the complete address of an another block which would be selected by the operation of a selected key of the keyboard.
    So, their patent only covers hyperlink using a keyboard to activative the link. I've read their "claims" section, even in it they didn't mention about other means of activation (e.g. mouse click). AFAIK, patent laws only a protects the exact implementation.

    Does it meant that only the lynx users are affected?:)

    --- No sig.

Never trust a computer you can't repair yourself.

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