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BT Loses Case Over Hyperlink Patent 224

Posted by michael
from the world's-smallest-violin dept.
Tarkie sent in this Bloomberg blurb noting that British Telecom has lost their patent suit against Prodigy over an old patent that BT hoped would cover the use of hyperlinks on the modern WWW. See our original story or check out the court's decision.
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BT Loses Case Over Hyperlink Patent

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  • Well, good. (Score:3, Informative)

    by MaxVlast (103795) <maxim@s l a . to> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @06:53PM (#4123377) Homepage
    I think anyone sensible who saw their claims shook his head in wry humor.
    • Re:Well, good. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MaxVlast (103795)
      Don't mistake this followup for a sign that I care, but how can the first post be redundant? It just doesn't make sense!
      • So they mod your question insightful, but leave the original as is. All I can suggest is you got redundant because they just assumed it was a troll. If they were serious, then most of /. should be modded redundant.
  • Damn (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2002 @06:55PM (#4123387)
    I wonder if I can get a refund. I knew I shouldn't have paid for all my future linking in advance.
  • My SUPER website had lots of superlinks, and my friend told me I MIGHT GET IN TROUBLE!!!!!! Luckily Im safe! Phew!!!!
  • by Negadin (261695) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @06:56PM (#4123399)
    Its good to see some of these completely absurd lawsuits getting downturned. This needs to happen more, so we can legitimize patent law into something reasonable. All it does now is stifle market growth and create money for lawyers.

    By the way the article is written, BT was using Prodigy as a "test case" for every ISP.

    Could you imagine? Scary thing is, I wouldn't have been totaly shocked if it did pass.
    • Me neither. (Score:3, Funny)

      by Trillan (597339)
      I think my reaction to BT losing is along the lines of "pleasently surprised." Which means I must be getting very cynical.
      • by The Bungi (221687) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:08PM (#4123470) Homepage
        I think my reaction to BT losing is along the lines of "pleasently surprised." Which means I must be getting very cynical.

        Or just getting worse at spelling.

      • Cynical?? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by T-Kir (597145)

        Nope, you're not cynical... this is BT we're talking about here.

        A company that is universally shafting most of the UK, especially concerning DSL (or lack of). And with a overseeing body called OFTEL (should now be OFCOM, not sure) who are supposed to make sure BT doesn't engage in monopolistic practices (just image what would have happened if they were granted the hyperlink patent!!). But OFTEL don't even have teeth, just gums covered in sponge, and a hand that lighty slaps BT's wrist and says "Bad boy, don't do it again" (for the n'th time).

    • Well, yeah. But, it took a 27 page judgement to reach this conclusion? Somehow, that is not comforting: neither when it comes to the legal process, nor how absurd the case was (or wasn't).
      • by topham (32406) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:14PM (#4123792) Homepage
        No, it takes 27 pages to prevent an appeal based on the judge not following procedure and protocol.

        sucks to be his secretary.
        • You know that most judgements are really "ghost-written" by others (legal clerks)? I know one of these assistants over here. I was really rather shocked when he described his job to me. I asked him is the judge even told him the gist of his thoughts on a decision so that he can write something along those same lines. His response was rarely. He has to find the legal arguments to justify the judges decisions. Forgot to ask if the judge even reads his brief at the end...
      • the case may be common sense to anyone who regularly reads /. but there are people out there who still don't really understand the internet. some of those people could be judges in higher courts; this way he explains the internet and clearly lays out why he made the judgement. i'm sure that 27 pages is a relatively short judgement.
    • Read the bottom of page 18 and the top of 19. "[T]he question is not what a device could have been made to do, but what it was intended to do and what it did do." I wonder if this will help a big in the RIAA mess. It would be a little bit of a stretch, but lawyers are supposed to be good at such things.
  • It doesn't get any more "blurby" than this... where is the C|Net coverage? Salon? Wired??? Anyone?

    These types of things need to be publicized as much as the bad/stupid rulings against MP3 sites or Microsoft.

  • by legal_tinker (124854) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:00PM (#4123423) Journal
    Note that the opinion does not invalidate the patent. Rather, it says that Prodigy (and the Internet writ large) do not infringe the patent because the Internet does not have a "central computer" or contain "blocks of information" as the court defined them and the patent requires.
    • So why did they sue an ISP, rather then say, W3C [w3.org]?
    • by MattW (97290) <matt@ender.com> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:53PM (#4123708) Homepage
      First, while that's true, that's not the only part of their argument the judge found lacking. He also asserted that their patent claimed it involved "complete addresses", which a URL is typically not because it must be processed with name resolution to be useful. There were other issues, with BT trying to claim that an Internet address was 'equivalent' to a 'complete address' (per the "doctrine of equivalents" embodied in patent law), but that was shot down too, because apparently BT narrowed their claims on the patent to get around prior art.

      I find it interesting, of course, since DNS is not the only address translation required. Before reaching the end server (and the patent says, "Central computer"), an ARP translation will be required as well to translate an IP address into a MAC address for transit across the physical+datalink layers of IP.

      The funny thing is that this patent was supposedly dead from prior art from what we've all heard, and it didn't even get far enough. Basically, the judge dismissed them for grossly misinterpreting the patent, never mind that it would likely have been rendered invalid by prior art had they even made it that far. I hope BT had to pay court costs.
      • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:24PM (#4123839) Homepage
        I find it interesting, of course, since DNS is not the only address translation required. Before reaching the end server (and the patent says, "Central computer"), an ARP translation will be required as well to translate an IP address into a MAC address for transit across the physical+datalink layers of IP.

        Actually, the judge did mention several additional levels of translation required. He mentioned that the web server needs to resolve the relative address in the the URL into a local address by looking up the base directory in a configuration file, and then needs to ask the OS to find the actual physical track and sector where the file is located. (Apparently the BT people specifically said that a complete address would have to include track and sector information!) He didn't even get into the idea that in many cases the data sent out isn't even a file at all, but is generated dynamically by the server.

    • While most people seem to rejoice over the court's decision, I must disagree. The decision was made over some sorry nitpicking over details: links in a separate block vs. embedded links, one central computer vs lots of central computers. Barring prior art, BT clearly has a legitimate claim on hyperlinks.

      I am sorry to see such an important case squandered by a short-sighted judge. He managed to turn them down this time, but the fight is not over. A decision in favor of BT would have been more fortunate in the long run: then the absurtidy of patents, and software patents in general would get some intense scrutiny. Seeing BT sue every hyperlink author, hyperlink user, web server operator and all their respective mothers for billions of pounds in damages would surely make one or two people think twice before defending the righteousness of intellectual property law.

      As far as I can see, and the law goes, BT was right, the judge was wrong. What this all comes down to is the fundamental truth: Intellectual property is a flawed concept.

    • I dug up this link [uscourts.gov] to the opinion and order re the Markham phase of the trial, which concerns how the claims of the patent are construed.

      <ramble>
      Since it's apparently necessary for all free developers to know the u.s. patent system well in order to more effectively undermine it, here's a good place to start. Hats off to this judge for presenting the material in a clear, almost tutorial manner.

      It's essential to be able to read patent claims the way a judge does. It's not as hard as it first appears - remember, the Judge has just as much trouble with technical aspects as we have with the patent legalese. One thing to keep in mind is that it's the claims that matter, and these are generally a fairly small part of the patent.

      Once you figure out what the claims mean, it's a lot easier to go hunting prior art or find a workaround.

      Of course I'm not suggesting that all developers have to stop coding now and become patent lawyers, but we do need a lot more eyeballs on these things to help counterbalance the prevailing insanity. Besides, undermining patents is an interesting sport in and of itself.</ramble>
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This will set the UK back at least 10 years. Imagine if you invented something wonderful, and the courts stole it from you.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:35PM (#4123625) Journal
      This will set the UK back at least 10 years. Imagine if you invented something wonderful, and the courts stole it from you.

      Sorry, A.C., but they didn't invent it.

      Hyperlinking, as practiced on the internet, was described by Ted Nelson, in books published years before they applied for that patent.

      Indeed, Ted is the one who coined and popularized the terms "Hypertext" and "Hyperlink".

      What bugs me is that, as I read it, the judge's decisions about "central computer", "blocks of data", and "complete address" are all wrong. The patent should have applied to the Internet (by the doctrine of equivalences) and should have been struck due to the prior art.

      But then again, IMHO patents on "doing X with a computer when people are already doing X by hand" should be unpatentable. (A generic patent on simulating human workflow would have been patentable shortly after the inventionn of the digital computer, but it's far too late for that now.)

      And also IMHO essentially all software patents OTHER than "doing X by computer when people are already doing X by hand" should be struck as patenting "mathematical algorithms".
      • by Anonymous Coward
        What bugs me is that, as I read it, the judge's decisions about "central computer", "blocks of data", and "complete address" are all wrong. The patent should have applied to the Internet (by the doctrine of equivalences) and should have been struck due to the prior art.

        In effect, this is exactly what happened. If you read the judgement right through, you'll see that 'central computer', 'blocks of data' etc. were made to have very narrow, specific meanings by BT, in an attempt to get the patent granted in the first place, despite the wealth of prior art.

        Crucially, BT limited 'complete address' during their patent application to specifically include the track and sector on the disk where the next page should come from, because 'virtual addresses' (using filenames or other additional 'lookup data') had already been described and used elsewhere.

        Without being able to show infringement of this and other features, they didn't stand a chance. Of course, the lawyers made a bunch of $$$, and we all pay for that somewhere...

      • Actually, I think your wrong.

        I read through it, and what it made obvious to me was, regardless of whether an idea existed before or not, an extrapolated version of it could be patented, but... and heres the catch, it would have to be an exact match.

        I, for instance, agree that a webserver could be construed as a central computer. (atleast in reference to a set of data, whatever that set is.. slashdot posts? whatever). But since BT used that to differentiate themselves from prior-art it chained them to the narrow interpretation.

        Had it not been used to avoid conflict with prior art perhaps it could have been contrued in the wider sense.

        I'd hate to try and secure the system BT describes though, I don't think I'd want hackers to know what sector on my HD contains what... (and how the hell do you secure that nicely?)

      • by Vannevar Bush, in As We May Think [theatlantic.com]
      • But then again, IMHO patents on "doing X with a computer when people are already doing X by hand" should be unpatentable.

        So if I figure out how to create a robot that can dance a ballet or a new algorithm to beat the Turing Test I can't patent it?
  • Lost on SJ (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) <shadow.wroughtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:02PM (#4123432) Homepage Journal
    Not only did they lose but they lost on Summary Judgement. Basically a SJ motion happens midway through the case when one of the sides moves for the judge to rule in their favor. In essence they are saying that the other side has nothing. It occurs in almost every case and is rarely granted in whole (typically it will make smaller parts of the case go away). But to lose it all on SJ means that they really did have squat, and that there was no point in continuing on. Cool.
    • Re:Lost on SJ (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 26199 (577806)

      True. On the other hand, I've just spent a while reading the judgement... and the following few minutes muttering 'insane, insane, completely insane'. It's crazy.

      They lost the case on the kind of picky interpretation of words that, in everyday life, any sane person would just laugh off as irrelevant.

      There was absolutely nothing along the lines of, "look, your claim is idiotic, and you know it, now go away."

      Maybe that's patent law for you, I don't know. If it is... *shudder*... the sooner this kind of thing stops, the better.

      • by mcg1969 (237263)
        They lost the case on the kind of picky interpretation of words that, in everyday life, any sane person would just laugh off as irrelevant. There was absolutely nothing along the lines of, "look, your claim is idiotic, and you know it, now go away."

        "Look, dude, we know you're guilty, so we're just going to skip the details and throw you in jail."

      • Re:Lost on SJ (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcg1969 (237263) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:35PM (#4123626)
        Actually, there were a couple of comments in the text that suggest that the judge really did feel like this was a silly case.

        In particular, there was the section where BT was trying to show that an HTML file could be constructed in a manner fitting the description of the two-block files described in BT's patent. The BT witness built an example HTML file that demonstrated this point.

        The judge rejected this line of reasoning, saying "BT cannot claim that Prodigy infringes its patent, or induces others to infringe its patent, if it must invent the infringing device itself."

        Personally I think that was pretty funny; and morsels like this indicate to me that the judge was quite on top of things.
      • Re:Lost on SJ (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:04PM (#4123759) Homepage
        There was absolutely nothing along the lines of, "look, your claim is idiotic, and you know it, now go away."

        I'm not so sure I'd agree. The judge essentially says that BT's claim is bogus because it refers specifically to a hub and spoke data system (central computer and terminals that are hooked exclusively to it) while the Internet is the exact opposite. Saying (as the judge does):

        The Internet, is, in short, an entirely different beast from the system described in the Sargent patent. Consequently, the Internet does not infringe the Sargent patent either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. Prodigy is therefore entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

        Sounds very close to "look, your claim is idiotic, and you know it, now go away."

    • But to lose it all on SJ means that they really did have squat

      But this is where you're wrong. I just checked and couldn't find any indication they had squat. It was completely absent from the proceedings.
    • A matter is usually decided by summary judgement where there is no dispute between the parties as to the facts of the case. There is only a need for a trial when the judge has to find out what the facts are before making a legal ruling.

      In a case like this where neither side disputed the facts and were just seeking a ruling on how the law applied to the situation it would be decided by summary judgment

      Summary judgment is no more a finding that you had squat than any other way to lose a case. If BT had squat the judge would have dismissed the claim for something along the lines of "failure to state a claim for which relief can me granted" .

      Summary judgment is not a dismissal of a case but merely the conclusion of a case where a finding of fact need not be issued.
  • by Embedded Geek (532893) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:05PM (#4123447) Homepage
    Back when I first heard this whole mess, I couldn't help but think of the classic Onion story "Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes" [theonion.com].

    At least the Onion had intended the humor...

    • The one billion Indians should sue all electronics and computer companies - after all, ancient Indians invented the zero and the place value number system. That is the basis for binary, hexadecimal, octal and decimal number system!!!
      • Actually, I reread the story for the first time in a long time and had forgotten that the Onion had thought of that - they have old Bill buying up Sanskrit and ancient Greek parchments.

        Good catch anyways!

  • In other news, the sun did not come up this morning, huge cracks have appeared in the Earth's surface, and large boulders are falling from the sky. Details at 11:00.

  • there is a god??
  • What a relief! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by teetam (584150) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:07PM (#4123464) Homepage
    After the fact, it might seem obvious why BT lost its case, but there are many other such stupid patents and lawsuits all over the world today. Too many companies today have given up on the old business model of making money by manufacturing good quality products and keeping the paying customers happy. May be it is an old economy school of thought!

    It is far to simpler to hold the world hostage under the guise of protecting IP and charge a ransom from everyone who uses it.

    Remember, the Amazon 1-click patent is still valid! It is not worried about the absence of a business plan that drives them towards profitability, but wants to prevent other websites from using cookies to enable faster checkouts.

    Ultimately, I think that is the problem with all these patents and copyrights. If companies truly believed in their products and the value that they provide to their customers, they wouldn't have to resort such stupid mechanisms to make money.

    • The simple fact is, its easier to pull a patent out of your rear and start suing and profiting via licencing, then it is to create a truely innovative and profitiable product.
  • Does /.ing count as a hacking attempt? Or maybe they disguised a mp3 as a pdf and we were just helping the RIAA.
  • JPEG next... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by philipsblows (180703) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:08PM (#4123471) Homepage

    Let's see some similar sanity with the JPEG patent [slashdot.org]

    • the problem is that the JPEG patent actually applies to JPEGs, while this one had a barely superficial resemblance to hyperlinks. It's gonna take an altogether different type of sanity for that one, along the lines of throwing out software patents in general.
    • Re:JPEG next... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by surfacearea (219926)
      Not as similar as you think. The reasoning is not as closely aligned, as the JPEG compression algorithm had to be thought of, designed, and implemented developed by someone, somewhere. That is to say, an image compression algorithm is obviously too complex to be "conceptual" (in the free domain of thought). If that entity which created JPEG has rights, then that entity has rights--but far be it from me to agree that those who created JPEG are Forgent, or any subsidiaries therein. However, that is not the case with hyperlinks, which are purely conceptually existent, and have been for a very long time (since the 60s). Compare this to trying to claim a patent on footnotes.
  • Some bastard out there is gonna file a patent saying he 'discovered' the makeup of air and is gonna try to push that through a court system somewhere. Kinda like the freak who filed this stupid patent. [slashdot.org] Next thing you know I'll be paying for the air I breathe.
  • From the PDF (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scott1853 (194884) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:10PM (#4123481)
    BT argues that Prodigy infringes the Sargent patent through its business activities as an
    Internet Service Provider. BT contends that Prodigy's web servers provide access to information
    in a manner that literally infringes the Sargent patent.

    BT also alleges that the Internet infringes the Sargent patent and that Prodigy facilitates
    infringement by its subscribers by providing them with access to the Internet. BT contends that
    Prodigy contributorily infringes or actively induces the infringement of the Sargent patent by
    providing the necessary software and encouraging its subscribers to access pages of information
    from Web servers maintained by third parties. Therefore, BT argues, even if Prodigy's servers
    do not infringe the Sargent patent as a matter of law, summary judgment should be denied
    because Prodigy infringes the '662 patent by making and using infringing remote terminals.


    Based on that last paragraph, it sounds like BT was trying to pull a XXAA and declare the whole Internet as illegal.
  • I didn't read through the entire judgement, but does this nullify the patent, or can only the patent office revoke a patent? And if so, based on the judgement, is that enough for them to do so?
    • Re:Patent Status (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bwt (68845) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:09PM (#4123775) Homepage

      No, unfortunately it doesn't. On most legal matters, patents included, judges take a restrained approach: they only answer the minimal amount that they have to. In this situation, before you toss out the patent, you have to show that if the patent is valid that the defendent infringed it. Since there is no infringement here, the question of validity does not arise.
    • Re:Patent Status (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rgmoore (133276)

      No, it doesn't nullify the patent. OTOH, it does say that the patent does not and can not apply to the Web no matter how hard BT tries to strech it. Since nobody here is likely to try using the type of system that the patent does cover, it's just as good as ruling it invalid.

  • ... is team up with the guy who "owns" .jpg
    Two jackasses is better than one, right?
  • Why they lost (Score:2, Interesting)

    I find it interesting that prior art was not mentioned in the decision. Instead, it revolved around the concept of "central computer" in BT's patent vs a large number of computers in the internet. Also interesting was that BT's concept involved a physical pointer (track and sector) to the data rather than a translated, possibly indirect url.
    • In theory, a judge wants to change law as little as possible when making a judgement. In this case, the judge was saying, "Your patent doesn't apply in this case," not, "your patent is invalid." The BT patent is probably very valid for a very specific use (as patents should be).

      Judicial rulings should be like debugging someone elses software: change as little as you absolutely have to, lest you break something subtle that you just didn't notice.
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:29PM (#4123596)
    I never tought that such a thing would be possible, but the court decision is actually a good read.

    If I understand correctly, BT's patent describes an old system whereby `continuous blocks of information' stored in a databased on a central `system' can be accessed remotely via telephone lines. The interface allows for accessing the data on the system by chunks. The users somehow selects a menu or a link when they want to access the next bit.

    The court comprehensively dismissed all parts of BT's infringement claims.First the Internet is not a central system, second a central database is not accessed (the judge writes that the Internet is in fact the very antithesis of a central database), next the data on the Internet is not in the form of blocks: HTML is far more flexible than what the BT patent describes, and finally the concept of hyperlink is far more advanced than what BT described in its patent (basically a `give me the next bit' button).

    At some point during the trial, BT's expert tried to submit made up web pages that conformed to what the BT patent was describing. The judge found that totally unconvincing, writing `a device does not infringe because it can be made to infringe'.

    In conclusion, the jugde writes `In contrast to what BT would have us believe, there are no disputed issues of material fact in this case'.

    Let's hear it for the court today.

    • `a device does not infringe because it can be made to infringe'


      Hmm... So we can apply this idea to patent law, but my question is can it then be applied to copywrite law as well?


      Thus, something like DeCSS which does not violate copywrite law on its own but can be made to, would not be in violation. A photocopier would be an example of this idea. While a photocopier can be used to reproduce an entire book, since it doesn't have to be used that way it is ok.


      Just a thought.

      • But, to do what you suggest, would be logical. If the law was logical then why would we need all those lawyers???

        • Sometimes I wish our legal system was like that world on the TV series Sliders, where lawyers were gunslingers, and legal battles were decided by shootouts between the two different legal teams. I don't know if that would make for better law, but we'd sure have a lot fewer lawyers...
      • Thus, something like DeCSS which does not violate copywrite law on its own but can be made to, would not be in violation.

        This is the essence of the "Betamax Defence": when the movie industry went after VCRs as copyright infringement devices, the judge found that they had "substantial non-infringing uses", meaning that while they could be used to violate copyright, that wasn't their sole or even intended purpose, and so VCRs were not essentially illegal tools.

        Let's hope this holds up in a Norwegian court, since it's the exact defence Jon Johansen will be using--that DeCSS has a substantial non-infringing use (playing DVDs on Linux in an exercise of fair use rights), even if it can be used to decrypt DVDs for piracy.

        This is also the defence that Napster tried, and failed.

      • So we can apply this idea to patent law, but my question is can it then be applied to copywrite law as well?

        Theoretically, yes. The Betamax decision protects products that have a substantially non-infringing use, such as VCRs.

        The DMCA (17 USC 1201 [cornell.edu]), on the other hand, is not concerned with copyright infringement but rather circumvention of access control. It does include an explicit exemption for devices with substantial non-infringing use in 1201(a)(2) and (b)(1), but judges ignore the exemption if they are bought and paid for like the MPAA attorney turned judge who heard the DeCSS case.

    • I'm sorry, I appear to have dropped into the wrong universe! One in which sanity sometimes prevails. I wonder if I can stay?

      Oh, I see Palmer Eldritch beckoning to me through the cracks. Sorry, got to go now---it was good while it lasted.

    • I never tought that such a thing would be possible, but the court decision is actually a good read.

      Indeed. But one thing I don't understand is the very first footnote:

      ...Prodigy provides the subscriber with a CD... to install on the subscriber's PC.[1]


      [1]The minimum system requirements suggested for a PC to run [IE5.5] includes...

      What relevence do the requirements have to anything?

      • It would appear that the intention is for an
        agent of the court to be able to evaluate the
        claims for himself. Thus, it might be relevant
        to specify what equipment would be required.
        It would make a lot more sense if the requirement
        had been for some specialized hardware, but you
        might want to consider how many law offices run
        [23]86's with wordperfect and novell networks, groupwise,
        and so on.
    • I never tought that such a thing would be possible, but the court decision is actually a good read.

      Not all decisions are very interesting, of course, but this one did seem to stand out as being particularly lucid. I have noticed a few people posting on this thread who claimed that the Internet did infringe and that they wanted the patent invalidated due to prior art. I am almost certain that these people did not read the decision carefully, because it really does completely demolish any idea that infringement *of this patent as granted* ocurred. The prior art about hyperlinks etc. was really besides the point because the BT patent did not end up describing hyperlinks anyway. Really, this ruling is probably better and fairer than declaring the patent invalid, because, as far as I can tell, there really was a novel invention that the patent does describe...and which nobody is especially likely to infringe on since we just don't go around providing button interfaces to access specific hard disk track/sector data on centralized computer systems. For a few months there, the patented idea may well have been very useful and all, but it is irrelevent to any modern practice that I know of.

      But don't believe me; read it yourself.

  • So I'm wondering (Score:3, Insightful)

    by God! Awful (181117) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:40PM (#4123642) Journal
    So I'm wondering about all those /. readers who complained about how terrible patents are because they allowed BT to make this claim... doesn't the fact that BT lost the suit prove that the law isn't as broken as you thought?

    Same with the case with HP and the DMCA. The fact that HP can file the lawsuit doesn't prove that the law is broken; it's only broken if they would have won.

    -a
    • by 6 (22657)
      > So I'm wondering about all those /. readers who complained about how terrible patents
      > are because they allowed BT to make this claim... doesn't the fact that BT lost the suit
      > prove that the law isn't as broken as you thought?

      No.

      The problem is that a corporation with deep pockets is fully capable of forcing an issue like this, one that clearly had no merit, to court thus costing money. The ability to tie your adversary up in legal nonsense simply because you had a patent, no matter how worthless, is the problem.

      > Same with the case with HP and the DMCA. The fact that HP can file the lawsuit
      > doesn't prove that the law is broken; it's only broken if they would have won.

      The brokenness is that such suits must be defended at all. A legal defense costs money and time and throws fear uncertainty and doubt before it.
    • Same with the case with HP and the DMCA. The fact that HP can file the lawsuit doesn't prove that the law is broken; it's only broken if they would have won.

      What?? And I suppose WWII was only bad if we lost.
      Let's not forget all the soldiers who got slaughtered nor all the research that is stifled simply by the threat of the dmca.

      A society where we have to rely on martyrs just to point out blatantly obvious mistakes is incredibly broken IMO.
      These kinds of things (dmca) should never have happened in the first place.

      • Re:So I'm wondering (Score:3, Interesting)

        by God! Awful (181117)
        You know, I could threaten to sue you for absolutely anything at any time. I could even sue you for wrongful death. But if my claim has no merit, the judge is just going to throw it out of court. He might even slap me with a fine for filing a nuisance suit.

        We can't refuse to pass laws just because someone might abuse them. We have laws against rape, and they are the source of many false accusations, but it would be ridiculous to legalize rape on this basis. We simply have to make sure that there are fitting penalties for people who make false accusations.

        -a
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2002 @07:44PM (#4123660)
    Read the decision PDF. It makes it clear that Prodigy (and the internet in general) didn't infringe on BT's patent because BT's patent description was slightly too narrow -- and also because the judge [IMHO] doesn't understand what a "server" ("central computer" in BT jargon) is.

    What it does NOT do is throw out BT's patent on the basis of prior art. That is, BT's patent still stands to harass us yet another day.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No, he does understand what a server is, and that is a sort of center. He also understands that not all servers are the same 'center' due to the internet being, by design, a thing no single center.

      He also notes that BT carefully narrowed their definitions to avoid prior art, but this narrowing also narrowed their claim out of validity.
    • Read the decision PDF more carefully. The judge did understand what a "server" is (well enough anyway) and he did not find against BT because their claims were slightly too narrow but because they covered something entirely different.

      With respect to the "remote terminals" connected to a "central computer" part of the judgement he allowed that having a bunch of "hub and spoke" networks that were connected in some way would infringe, but also noted (correctly) that the internet is nothing at all like this. Any "remote terminal" can retrieve information from any server, so no server qualifies as a "central computer" with respect to any group of "remote terminals".

      Centralized strorage was a crucial part of the BT patent. Decentralized strorage is the defining characteristic of the internet. There is no way to read the BT patent broadly enough that it includes the internet without also including prior art.

      BTW - there is no reason why the BT patent should be thrown out. They have a right to hold a patent over the technology that they developed. They do not have a right to claim everything that looks vaguely like the technology that they developed. The judge correctly found that their patent does cover something, it just doesn't cover the internet.

  • The parents of Harold Theodore Michelis-Lenord (H. T. M.-L.) are suing the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for their use of their son's copyrighted initials.
  • I disagree (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajs (35943) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:06PM (#4123764) Homepage Journal
    I have strong feelings about this case, and I want BT to lose, but I have to say that the judge missed the point that BT was making. The claim that the Internet infringes, not because it has a central computer with centralized data store as described in the patent, but that it is made up of many such arrangements.

    This is fundamentally true, though inaccurate (the terms "Internet" and "World Wide Web" are confused here). The World Wide Web's HTTP+HTML elements (certainly what most people think of as "The Web") do infringe the patent on this basis. A Web server provides a central service of delivering data to remote clients. Each Web server provides this function, and thus infringes. The "Internet", does not infringe, and thus Prodigy's ISP business does not infringe, IMH(IANAL)O, but the World Wide Web does. In this way, I think BT should have gone after Microsoft for making IIS, but then they would have had to explain why the didn't go after NCSA back in the days of the NCSA Web server....
    • Read it very carefully. The problem for BT was that prior art existed for systems as you describe which ment that while filing the patent they had to be more specific on interpretation. Which means, that while the Internet/web may infringe patents (the prior art) it doesn't infringe BT since BTs is so specific.

      BT was forced to have a very narrow patent or they could not have patented it.
    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cbogart (154596) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @08:15PM (#4123800)
      It is kind of similar to HTTP/HTML, but the judge
      points out that this patent was already defended against a prior art claim, by emphasizing the fact that the links contained not virtual references but actual track/sector numbers; and that the links appeared in a separate section of the file from the main text. Those quirky details were therefore an intregal part of what their patent claims, and they definitely don't apply to HTML.
  • The whole crux of the judge's summary judgment basically comes down to this:

    "A central computer, as claimed in the Sargent patent, has a one-to-one, hub and spoke relationship with numerous physically separate stations called remote terminals. The remote terminals are connected to the central computer by the telephone lines of a telephone network. All of the remote terminals connect to the central computer that has one centralized main store for storing information. As a result a remote terminal in the Sargent patent does not identify in its communication protocol a computer with which it would like to communicate, for it communicates with only one central computer. In contrast, a computer operating on the Internet must at all times identify a specific computer with which it seeks to communicate... .

    Thank God we have astute judges! It would be a much scarier world if claims like this were being evaluated by the general public...
  • I just honestly wonder if BT ever *really* though they were going to win this one?

    I mean, let's compare what they stood to win and lose:

    Win: Closing down the internet. No one in their right mind would ever pay BT every instance they created a new hyperlink. It's like the court deciding in favour of Dell because they use 'On' buttons on their computers.

    Lose: Massive PR losses. BT is already taking huge hits at home over the pathetic provision of broadband in the UK, with OFTEL planning on punishing them even more.

    No court would ever find in their favour given the huge wide-ranging implications of a win on the IT infrastructure of the WHOLE WORLD!

    If you were a managing director, and knew this was still being fought in the courts, would you really instruct your legal team to keep fighting until the bitter end?

    What a bunch of morons BT are. They deserve everything they get.

    -Nano.
  • JPEG next (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ChaoticLimbs (597275)
    Now, if we can get this court for the JPEG issue....
  • by Skapare (16644) on Thursday August 22, 2002 @09:46PM (#4124145) Homepage

    While I'm not normally one to go aiding SBC Communications, the current owner of Prodigy, I do believe BT needs to be smacked with a remedy of paying all the legal costs of the defendant. Because the ruling came early, it won't be so much. But because it is so blantantly harrassment and baseless, even SBC Communications deserves to recover the costs they had to spend to pay for their lawyers and legal department staff to research and prepare briefs, make motions, and all that other mumbo-jumbo that lawyer types do.

  • But AOL may infringe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday August 23, 2002 @12:03AM (#4124672) Homepage
    Unlike the Internet, AOL really does have "central computers", located in their big data center in Northern Virginia, and containing all of AOL's "blocks" of proprietary "content", linked by "hyperlinks". So AOL might actually be infringing.

    The BT patent comes from a previous generation of technology, which included Ceefax, Prestel, and Minitel. [minitel.fr] Ceefax and Prestel are dead, but millions of Minitel terminals are still out there; France Telecom uses them instead of phone directories. You can click on the link above and download a Minitel emulator, which allows you to emulate a 16-color block graphics terminal inside a web browser. From there, you can access the telephone directory of France or the Minitel services directory. Most of the services are pay, and at sizable per-minute rates. That sort of fee structure was characteristic of those first-generation systems deployed by telcos.

    It's little-known, but Telecom France actually deployed Minitel in the US. There were dial-in ports in all major cities. There were even some English-language services. I had an account for about a year around 1989. International text chat for around $0.06/minute, which was good back then.

    • Ceefax and Prestel are dead
      Try telling that to my TV - it quite happily displays all of the BBC's Ceefax pages.

      For those of you who don't know what Ceefax is - it is the BBC's name for it's analogue TV based text service. It is a one way broadcast system which uses a series of carousels which contain the pages - broadcast in numerical order. A user chooses the page either from a Link button (Fasttext) or by the usual method of entering the page number into the TV's remote control handset. All 5 UK Terestrial stations support Teletext as do a great many of Europes analogue broadcasters.

      Prestel and Minitel are different from Teletext in that they are interactive modem based services - although they usually share the same graphics facilities as Teletext.
    • Actually, Ceefax (Teletext) is still going. Most TVs in the UK support teletext, and it comes with the broadcast TV signal.
    • Yeah, you can even find e-mail to Minitel gateways (kinda like reading mail with PINE on a VT100, if you want my opinion :-)

      BTW, the Minitel terminals make good cheap consoles for Linux. If you happen to be in France, just put a modem with mgetty on your box. You can then access it from any house equipped with a Minitel just by dialing your box's number then pressing the `Connexion/Fin' button (don't forget to switch the terminal to 80-column mode). If nothing else, it makes me laugh when everyone in the room looks strangely at me, probably thinking I've just hacked the Telco's system :-))
  • by 1gor (314505) on Friday August 23, 2002 @06:52AM (#4125513)
    I believe that official (but not publicised) US government policy encourages US patent office to award as many silly patents as possible to US companies. It is a valid way to stimulate national industry. Due to its overwhelming superiority, the US is the only country that can enforce its laws abroad.

    The example of British company losing its patent claim in the US court to a US company doesn't disprove above point.
  • Unfortunately, this whole decision might be thrown out. It contains a critical flaw. From page 17 of the decision:
    <script>document.write(HTMLCacheArray[34];</script ><A
    href="http://www.msnbc.com/modules/exports/ct _prodigy.asp?/news/736921.asp"
    target="_top">Yaho o! profits meet forecasts</A><TD>

    The document write is missing an end parenthesis.

    Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

nohup rm -fr /&

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