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BT Pushing Hyperlink Patent 458

There's been a lot of new publicity lately about the British Telecom trying to defend a patent that they claim means they invented hyperlinking. Currently they are going after Prodigy for using hyperlinking back in the early eighties. We've mentioned this one before, but it really looks like they are going to push it. Insane.
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BT Pushing Hyperlink Patent

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  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:37PM (#2987668)
    The prevailing talk among the oucrts is that BT is going down a dead-end and no court is particularly interested in pursuing an obvious legal morass. Added to which it is widely known that Xerox has a strong case for prior art.

    I wouldn't get too worried about this.

  • by Nijika ( 525558 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:39PM (#2987681) Homepage Journal
    I don't see how this makes good business sense, even if there is MONEY to be made. Alienating, well, everyone who ever will and does use the Internet is probably bad for PR.

    In other words, just because you DO have a patent doesn't mean you should always attempt to enforce it.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Are you from the UK?

      BT started off from a monopoly several years ago, and have maintained this position though bullying and attacking the rest of the marketplace. BT are terribly complacient and it shows though thier buisness stratagy. From their failure to recognise the burden their debts have placed on the company (which worried the city no end) right though to the running battles they've had with other service providers over local loop unbundling (i.e. giving flat rate charges to other competitors to access last mile)

      Oftel (the UK offical telecoms regulator) have been having running battles with them ever since thier creation.

      I don't think BT really give a damn about getting this kind of bad press. Those people that listen already know their aggressive buisness tactics, though that don't care...well, don't care.

    • But if they win the case and can ultimately pocket a penny a click (or whatever) the people who are in leadership positions in BT will be able to retire incredibly wealthy long before their patent expires.

      As to the person below who said you shouldn't be able to patent software, well, they're not, they're patenting the idea of computers providing an easy to navigate function to arbitrarily reference, and allow you to go to another machine. Sounds like on-site linking isn't covered by this patent, but any link to another website is. Sucks to be a search engine.

  • by twocents ( 310492 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:39PM (#2987686)
    http://www.theonion.com/onion3311/microsoftpatents .html

    Except the for fact that the current article seems to be based in fact.
  • by night_flyer ( 453866 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:41PM (#2987695) Homepage
    The telecom industry is on life support at the moment. Stocks are about as low as they can go (WCOM hit $6.00 a share sometime last week, from a high of $85.00).

    they will lose this case and they will probably go bankrupt soon after. Its just a money grab that is doomed to failure.
  • The article says "BT is determined to prove that a patent lodged with the US patent office back in 1980". That's 22 years ago. Doesn't that mean it's already expired even if it were valid (which I doubt)?

    Is BT Government-run like the BBC or are they a completely private entity?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      We're not that lucky; the text of the BBC article says in the UK the patent expired, but they're pursuing this in the US, where it doesn't expire for another four years.
      • in the US, where it doesn't expire for another four years.

        That's what I was wondering about - why does it last an extra 6 years in the US? Did they wait 6 years to file the patent in the US? Or is there a special "Intellectual Property" law in the US that gives them extra time? (I wouldn't think so, but knowing what's gone on with IP in the US, I wouldn't be too surprised...)

      • by markmoss ( 301064 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:55PM (#2987831)
        US patents used to run for 17 years from the time a patent was granted, vs. 20 years from the time of application in the rest of the world. So if it expires in 2006, then it must have been granted in 1989 -- that's a rather long delay if the UK application was in 1980. Or, the article seems to say that the suit now is over patent infringement in the 80's -- which makes this a remarkably long time to wait, and isn't there an applicable statute of limitations?

        Also, US courts are just now beginning to consider that failure to enforce a patent for an unreasonably long time (like while the patented technique becomes industry standard practice, with no royalties), may constitute "prosecution laches" and make the patent unenforceable. See this. [law.com]
    • by iainl ( 136759 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:45PM (#2987737)
      BT are a privatised corporation - they used to be Government owned and run (actually, while the BBC is paid for by a tax they defend their independance fiercely), but were sold off during the 1980s to pay for tax breaks.

      As for the whole patent thing, I've no idea when the patent runs out, and I'm not even going near the question of if its defendable. Let the lawyers argue that one out.
    • by NickV ( 30252 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:50PM (#2987776)
      The article says "BT is determined to prove that a patent lodged with the US patent office back in 1980". That's 22 years ago. Doesn't that mean it's already expired even if it were valid (which I doubt)?

      Nothing pisses me off more on /. than people who don't read the article. Hell, I'd expect better from someone with a UID > 20000.

      From the actual article, (you know... what you didn't read)...
      "The UK patent has already expired so ISPs in the UK would escape having to pay anything. But in the US, the patent does not expire until 2006. "

      Also, to answer your second question (which is also IN the article you didn't read,) BT used to be a part of the Post Office, but it no longer is so.
  • Might have merit... (Score:3, Informative)

    by gamgee5273 ( 410326 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:41PM (#2987698) Homepage Journal
    BT might have an argument with merit, but I'm doubting it.

    HTML's roots are in SGML, the markup language primarily used by tech writers to create modular documents from multiple sources (ie, a car manual and related sales material would pull from the same source). A hyperlink is a logical extension once you place a markup language in a networked environment - by jumping from page to page you're, in essence, creating a modular "book" just as a tech writer could create a car manual.

    Again, there may be some merit, but precious little, IMHO...

  • by Morphy3 ( 227773 ) <morphy3.yahoo@com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:42PM (#2987703) Homepage

    What beef does BT [cdnow.com] have with the group Prodigy [cdnow.com]?
    • Liam sampled the engaged tone to use as the backing on the 12" single of Charley all those years ago. Since they have only just realised, they now want royalties for everything, since its that sample-fest that launched his (and his drug dealing mate's) career.

      n.b. Some, all or none of the above is complete bollocks.
  • Prodigy?

    Why aren't they taking on someone like Adobe ? Or AOL?

    This seems like a bully on a playground move
    • Also, by picking on someone smaller, they have a better chance of outlasting Prodigy's money. If they can win against a smaller company, then larger companies will be more likely to license instead of go to court...so they spend a little to make a lot.

      You're right, it's kind of like a bully picking on the weakest kid in class to keep all of the other kids in line when it comes time to collect the milk money.

      Not that I would compare this software patent lawsuit to schoolyard bullying and extortion. That would be scandalous wouldn't it? You can take that risk and expose yourself to possible libel suits, but I won't since I know that saying that all of those Important People in Expensive Suits protecting their Valuable Intellectual Property are just like punks who pick on little kids? That would be very rude of me. So I won't say that this lawsuit is like a bully picking on the little kid in class so that the rest of the kids will give up their lunch money without a fight.

      But, even if they do win, the intersection between voters and people who have made webpages is probably pretty high. If you could only get the message out to all of those people that they're Patent Violators for using this patented technology without BT's permissions, perhaps the laws would be changed. After all, patents only exist because laws let them. They could be taken away. Unlikely...but you never know.
    • Legally it's quite a shrewd manuever to launch the offensive against a smaller target. BT can bully Prodigy and get a settlement, or, if they go to court, they won't be fighting the endless hoardes of lawyers that a company like AOL would throw at it.

      Either way, if they win they establish a precedent that will simplify the process as they go after the bigger fish.

      BTW - I hear a bunch of lawyers for Rambus are looking for a new "righteous IP cause" to sign on for...
  • I think they should pay attention to whats going on with the file-sharing apps. They take down one and another pops up. How would they ever suspect to enforce this? Along with that, how can you patent a content delivery method like linking? Thats complete bullshit, this is even worse than that company that patented pausing tv 20 years ago. I'm really starting to get sick of this intellectual warfare. I had it explained to me by a upper-level IBM fellowship that pretty much the whole point of IP is have a weapon against your competitor, why else would they patent so many inane things. *sigh*... fuck...
  • by TheTomcat ( 53158 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:42PM (#2987710) Homepage
    The last part of the article:

    'See "internet links" for the text of BT's patent. There is no charge for doing so.'


  • I'm gonna look for a fossil driver for Linux. Is FidoNet still around?
    • I'm gonna look for a fossil driver for Linux. Is FidoNet still around?

      Why would you need a FOSSIL driver for Linux? They only provided a standard interface to serial devices, whether it was an ordinary COM? port or one of the intelligent serial cards that a larger multiline BBS might use. Back when I ran a Linux-based BBS that talked to FidoNet, all the software involved talked to ordinary /dev/ttyS? devices, which would've been set up by the kernel and by whatever getty you used (IIRC, I used mgetty).

      Others would be better able to say if FidoNet is still around. I think it is, but I shut down my BBS toward the tail end of '94 and quit calling around to other BBSes sometime in '95 or '96.

  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:44PM (#2987718) Homepage
    However, it would appear that BT only discovered this patent in 2000. Therefore, they made absolutely no effort to enforce it over the last 15 or so year that it was being used by countless companies and organizations, not to mention end users. Even if they're able to extract royalties from this day forward, can they go back retroactively and enforce them on older products as well? Even the GIF patent, which I disagree with, only charged royalties from that day forward, not from the date they obtained the patent.

    Can I do this legally? Patent something, hope someone else develops a similar technology, say nothing for 20 years until the patent is about to expire and economies depend on my product, then just raise my hand one day and say, "Excuse me! You have to pay me now".

    I know the patent holder can selectively choose to license that patent for no charge and they coudlnt' come back later and change their minds retroactively. What about in this situation, where they've said nothing. Done nothing to enforce it. Didn't even realize they HAD the patent. Its almost as if they were purchasing patents for the sole purpose of hoping one of them would be a huge breadwinner in the future.

    However, at least they had an actual product tied to the patent. Its not as bad as the idiot who patented "downloading music off the internet" as an idea with no product to back it up and trying to extort money out of companies as a result.

    • by bourne ( 539955 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:50PM (#2987781)

      Can I do this legally? Patent something, hope someone else develops a similar technology, say nothing for 20 years until the patent is about to expire and economies depend on my product, then just raise my hand one day and say, "Excuse me! You have to pay me now".

      Yes, they can do that - trademarks have to be actively defended, patents do not. Consider Unisys and the gif (lzw?) patent.

    • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:56PM (#2987838) Homepage
      > Can I do this legally? Patent something, hope someone else develops a similar technology, say nothing for 20 years until the patent is about to expire and economies depend on my product, then just raise my hand one day and say, "Excuse me! You have to pay me now".

      Yes. Yes, you can do it, if the 'similar technologies' truely fall under your patent's umbrella and nobody else has prior art (or you ensure that you find the prior art first, and 'bury' it somehow). Shit, companies file multiple patents 'around' existing patents, and then sue the original patent holder (provided they are small fry enough) for infinging on their umbrella. It's common practice. Patent laws are fucked up, but with less stringent patent laws, numerous entrenched patent-oriented industries, legal practices, etc, etc would also be fucked up. Ergo, there is little chance of going backwards. As usual, we've got so many doctors at the bottom of the cliff that we can't afford to teach people how to NOT WALK OFF THE CLIFF anymore. Too many people lose too much money and too many jobs, etc, etc .. but the patent process needs a serious readjustment in my views. Knowing what I know, I would never consider filing a patent for anything I thought was new; although I'd somehow make sure I had evidence of 'prior art' so I could proove at a later date that it was my idea to begin with if some corperation thinks they can claim it as theirs. I'd keep it to myself, unless I was at a big company, and was I indespensible to them (ie, I wouldn't even sell my idea to a large company, because they shaft you.) Currently, patent laws work against small timer innovation (it costs shitloads of money to even file a patent) and encourage this kind of big business petty behaviour; especially when said patent holders need an easy quick injection of cash. I've heard that companies like IBM have inter-department patent races to see who can file the most patents in a year, which is why we've got insanely granular, subjectively valid patents that are really only 'enforcable' by virtue of the amount of lawyers you have on a leash.

      Thats my understanding. IANAL, YMMV, and I'm sure you've all got cousins with personal stories that can debunk my raving lunacies ...
      • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:05PM (#2987905) Homepage
        Here's a neat article on this stuff, and the entrenchemnt of the patent enforcement industry (still relatively new 'visible' industry):

        here [techsearch-llc.com]

        Interesting stuff - kinda shows how the current patent climate actually causes people to focus more on exploiting patents and their lucrative pay-offs rather than focus on actually inventing shit.
      • Hmm... yeah, I tend to agree with you. As someone who currently has a patentable idea that we (my wife and I) would like to bring to market as a product in the next year or so, the whole issue interests me considerably.

        From the research we did already to see if previous patents existed for our product idea, I could tell that most people filing patents are "fishing for lawsuits", as opposed to having a real interest in selling a product.

        We didn't find anything that was exactly like our idea, but we found close to 10 patents for various methods of accomplishing pieces of what we needed to do in our product. Most made a vague mention of having a possible application in the general area of what we're trying to do. All of these patents were apparently thrown out there by tinkerers who made a single, crude attempt at performing a function with parts taken from the basement or garage - and then nothing more was ever done with them. Considering the cost of filing patents on them, I can only assume that they're hoping someone comes along and builds a successful product using a basic concept similar enough to theirs, so they can come out of the woodwork screaming "I have a lawyer! You owe me!"

        It's depressing, really....
        • > It's depressing, really....

          I couldn't agree more, but try convincing a market (the economic equivilent of the spoiled brat that gets what it wants, no matter how bad it is for itself in the future) of that. Everyone's a little too distracted by the amazing special effects, 500 channels and the 'rewindless VCRs' (DVD players) we've invented! Yay!
      • On the bright side, if things ever do get too bad for programmers...I am sure that it would be possible to get 20000 people to donate a few thousand each to start a patent pool. Not a patent pool for allowing OS/FS software, but a patent death pool to kill off all software development in the entire nation. Just look at the patents being awarded today and patent around them with as much generality and depth as possible, and in a few years noone will be able to move.

        The nice thing about patents is that it works both ways. Yes the trolls and extortionists can stop the little guy, but if enough little guys get together, we CAN get enough patents to stop everyone else. No cross-licensing, no licensing period. Just stopping progress. But wait, there's more. Since patents can only be used to stop someone from doing something, and since this plan wouldn't need to be implemented unless software development is impossible, they can't sue you for patent infringement because you already aren't doing anything! (Because as we all know, writing software and getting software patents are two activities with "softare" in their descriptions, but are totally separate things!)

        Sure, the courts might throw these patents out, but since patents are given to individual inventors, how can the courts just arbitrarily decide to say that these certain people cannot enforce their patents? Would they say that anyone who got a patent using PDP (Patent Death Pool) money cannot enforce their patent? That wouldn't be very nice. Also, you can stop someone else from using your patented idea, even if you have no intention of using it yourself! :)

        Hopefully, the rest of the world would then ignore software patents and charge ahead as we in the US just stagnate. Then people in the US might wake the fuck up and force Congress to get rid of patents on uses of machines.

        But, then again maybe not...but at least the rest of the world would be going on ok. :)
      • Too many people lose too much money and too many jobs, etc, etc.

        Yeah, when a company fires all its workers and moves someplace cheaper or decides to outsource, it's tough shit, but if rich people are going to lose their jobs then we can't possibly allow it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Vatican (Feb 11 2002) - After hearing a lot of reports over various parties claiming to have invented the hyperlink. The Holy se, today delcared the issue closed, by stating that hyperlinking was initially implemented by God almighty (See RFC -1).

    God Alimigty, Pope cried, was the definite inventor of what we now regard as the means of travel on the Internet. God, apparently envisoned the need for his slaves to find where they are and where they would go, thus he created what is now known as a pointer (or the index finger).

    Furthermore it was also suggested by the Vatican technical commity that God defined the pointer as a pointer to unsigned long. Where long is defined as the number of days (See day definition on first page of bible) the universe would exist.

    Copies of this declaration has been sent to the USPO and other such offices.

    Please disregard any fake stories of hypertext invention and linking from now on.

    Father Amaa Fui (Phd. CS and Deutology)
  • Brits... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Knunov ( 158076 ) <eat@my.ass> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:44PM (#2987727) Homepage
    I once admired the Brits for their loathing of American flakiness. I love America, as a whole, but if I could excise parts, frivolous lawsuits would be first to go.

    Anyway, I was working over in Europe and I happened to catch a British commercial...for a personal injury lawyer.

    "Did you slip on a tin of Spam at the local market? Was your kid injured during a game of rugby? If so, you may be entitled to damages. For more information, call (whatever)."

    (some guy dressed up in a rugby outfit)

    "I received £10,000 pounds for (whatever)"

    Looked and sounded *exactly* like an American personal injury lawsuit commercial, except the voiceover had a British accent.

    They are getting as ridiculous as we are. It's a shame, really. I always admired their stiff upper lip and total hatred for whining.

    Things they are a-changin'

    • Re:Brits... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FyRE666 ( 263011 )
      As a Brit, I find the "Call 0800-ambulance-chasers now!" adverts repulsive. They air the adverts mostly during the working day, obviously to target the unemployed or unemployable since they're most likely to need some quick and easy money.

      The companies providing these "services" have been the subject of numerous documentaries and consumer affairs programs on UK TV, and regularly exposed for the rogue outfits they so obviously are. Most of the "victims" only recieve a tiny amount of compensation, while the law firms reap the real rewards.

      It is absolutely pathetic; people seem to want to take no responsibility for their own lives any more. I still don't believe the UK has decended to the level of litigeousness of the States as yet, but some of the bottom feeders are slowly but surely crawling their way there...

      I have no other problems with America, by the way, just its legal system, patent system and Bill Gates :-)

  • They'll win, then we can all sue them for the time wasted clicking on broken links... :-)

    Mod -1, I shouldn't be allowed to post when I'm bored.
  • by jgaynor ( 205453 ) <jon&gaynor,org> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:45PM (#2987730) Homepage
    1968 [slashdot.org] - includes MOVIES of working links

    1965 [slashdot.org]

    1940's [slashdot.org]

    And alot more [slashdot.org]

    The list goes on and on. Let them squander their money. To quote a recent game - "If theyre deadset on squandering prescious resources sabotaging their own [] efforts, I say we let em do it."

    Along the same vein I cant believe Xerox hasnt made a stink about this. You think they would have learned their lesson after not screaming about the mouse, GUI, etc . . .

    • by markj02 ( 544487 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:08PM (#2987922)
      Those are probably hyperlinks to resources within the same computer. BT may be claiming hyperlinks among resources distributed across a network. That should be an obvious extension, but "obviousness" is a much harder defense against patent infringement than prior art.
      • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:48PM (#2988667) Homepage
        Your comment should be modded up a bit.

        I, probably like many /.'ers, watched a few of those videos and thought something along the lines of "man, those guys were so far ahead of their time, they had everything already done back then! Screw BT and their specious patents!". But go back and watch the demo [stanford.edu] again. Then scan the patent [] again. Doublas Engelbart's demo kept referencing hypertext within the same information store (computer). I couldn't find a reference to a local reference to remote information. Networking and even remote sessions are mentioned but never the context of a local link to a remote chunk of data. BT's patent appears to focus on hyperlinking menus being included with each chunk of data to allow easy access to further information.

        Now, having said that, there are some key differences between the hyperlinks we know and love today and the system described in BT's patent. Links in the form of http://, ftp://, etc are known as URLs because they abstract away the differences in local and network locations and various protocols used for transmitting the data. It may be argued that hyperlinks are abstractions of a local data store, not a remote menuing system. Also of interest in BT's patent is the reference to the VIEWDATA system, some quick internet searching reveals [demon.co.uk] systems that used color coded links that may qualify as prior art. Another major factor is the use of a mouse. BT's patent doesn't seem to mention anything besides keypad input methods while today's interaction with hypertext is primarily with some sort of pointing device.

        Another thing to consider is BT's first major target in this. While other reports mention up to 17 ISPs being asked to pay royalties, Prodigy has gotten the majority of the attention. Wasn't Prodigy one of the larger online services back in the '80s? Might they have had an early interface system that consisted of numeric menus linking to additional information? Is BT going after one of the only true violators of the patent, hoping to scare the rest of the world into paying royalties? Are they deliberately setting up smokescreens, hoping to distract from the real issues in the case?

        So, after a closer look, I still think that Mr. Englebart and his peers were way ahead of their time and I still say "Screw BT and their specious patents!", just for slightly different reasons.

  • prior art 1968 (Score:5, Informative)

    by martin ( 1336 ) <maxsec@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:47PM (#2987748) Journal
    Well looks like the US PO wasn't that brilliant even in 1980. This [slashdot.org] Slashdot article shows MIT demonstrating the idea back on Dec 9 1968.
    Given BT's cash problems I think they are trying it just in case they can get some money.
    • They only search existing patents.
      they time it would take to search all data in the world would be to long and costly.
      It is up to the individule to fight the patent either by going through the patent office's proceedure, or defeating it in court.
      It seems the BT has forced prodigies hand, and thus forced a court case.
      as a side note, I thought BT had the British patent offices seal of approval, as it were?
      I have never been throught thr British patent process, so I'll reserve comment.
      • Re:prior art 1968 (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rnturn ( 11092 )
        ``They only search existing patents. they [sic] time it would take to search all data in the world would be to long and costly.''

        That's a convenient excuse for the USPTO. ``Gosh... it'd be too hard to really do our job of verifying that this claim is original. So we'll let the courts sort it out.'' Or do they honestly believe that the prior art has to exist in a patent description?

        If there wasn't a good reason for the technical competence of the people doling out patents to be dramatically increased then I don't know what would be. Plus the emphasis on pushing a large number of applications through, and rewarding employees on meeting these numbers, is a major problem. It's better to get a lot of things done poorly than it is to have gotten a fewer amount done well.

        Anyone know of any studies done on the retarding effect of frivolously issued patents on the technology segment of the economy? I'm betting that there is a demonstrable effect.

    • Given BT's cash problems I think they are trying it just in case they can get some money.

      If I had major cash problems, I wouldn't try launching a patent infringement suit on a technology with prior art going back at least 34 years, especially when the defendant is basically everyone with a website. Not even Microsoft is running with the kind of cash you'd need to face that kind of opposition.

  • Who here remembers Sun's YP - excuse, me NIS?

    "NIS was formerly known as Sun Yellow Pages (YP) but the name Yellow Pages(tm) is a registered trademark in the United Kingdom of British Telecom plc and may not be used without permission."

    NIS HOWTO [ibiblio.org]
    • The UK must have some wierd trademark laws. In the US, as long as it is ion a different industry, and can not be reasonably mistaken for earlier trademark (i.e. not a similiar product, service, or device) you can have previously owned trade mark.
      for example, ford could come out with the Ford XP, and Microsoft could not sue for trade mark infringment. hence AMD XP.
  • What lawyer goes home at night thinking "wow, I really made a difference today. I'm doing my own little part to end poverty, stop war, and make life for all people everywhere happy and sustainable by... PATENTING HYPERLINKING." ??

    BT needs to hire a Director of Choosing Your Battles.

  • Proabably the marketing drones at BT didn't really think of the fact, that they could use that ridiculous patent (which will never stand up, they are not going against Joe Shmoe, but big money) to polish up the image of one of the worldwide most despised carriers. Just imagine instead of


    Yeah, we found out that we own this patent and we decided to release it for free for the greater good of the community.

    OK, so they pursued option 1. They look like the greatest losers and dickheads. Oh yeah; and they'll never see a cent in the first place. They also wouldn't see a cent with option 2 of course, but would be a really geeky and cool carrier (ok, that's a bit of a stretch for our UK readers) instead of complete jerks, that can't distinguish their arses from a hole in the ground.

  • by Scaba ( 183684 ) <joe@joefrancCOUGARia.com minus cat> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:50PM (#2987782)
    I thought everybody knew Vannevar Bush invented the concept of hypertext & hyperlinks with the introduction of Memex [virginia.edu] in 1945. Read the full article here [theatlantic.com]. Maybe someone should mention this to BT before they waste a lot of time with this nonsense?
  • I remember talking about it the 1980s. His articles could be used as "prior publication".
  • Those fools. (Score:4, Informative)

    by dmaxwell ( 43234 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:51PM (#2987789)
    The obvious thing for Prodigy to do is to call Douglas Englebart as a star witness. You can watch video of a point and click hypertext system he was demoing back in 1968. One place that can be seen is here:

    http://sloan.stanford.edu/MouseSite/1968Demo.htm l

    He even demoed a shared display system between two geographically separated terminals. If I was BT and saw Englebart on the defence's witness list, I would sue for peace immediately. 1968 for Pete's sake! Those guys need to be slapped upside the head with a wet mackeral.

  • by laserjet ( 170008 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:51PM (#2987797) Homepage
    Here are my favorite parts of the article:

    "BT stumbled upon the patent during a routine update of its 15,000 global patents in the summer of 2000."

    They didn't even know they had it, first of all. Their patent expires in the year 2006 in the US. What happens if you don't defend a patent (I am not a lawyer, I am curious if anything changes if you don't defend a patent)

    Plus, this patent is so general. And here is their evidence:

    Prodigy's unlikely saviour comes in the form of a fuzzy black and white video which shows a 1968 demonstration by Stanford computer researcher Douglas Engelbart apparently demonstrating hypertext linking.

    I would like to see this video... Seriously, though, I think this is going to be a huge PR disaster when this blows up in their face. Not only do they look like desperate bastards, but also like idiots trying to claim a patent like "the flying machine" entitles them to the royalties of airplanes, helicopters, gliders, etc. (Ana analogy the article pointed out.

    how low cna you go?
    • From my expaerince with the US patent system:
      You do not have to defend a patent to keep it. If you want to charge people retroactivly, you will have a tough row to hoe.

      British patents can be very vague, compared to US patents.
      here [stanford.edu] is the link you requested.
  • "However, according to the UK Patent Office, patents are, by nature, vague so such an argument might not prove to be sufficient defence."

    In the USPTO they should get rejected as being 'vague and indefinite' if they are to vague. This is a basic patent rejection. So if the language of this patent is to vague to understand today that should be sufficient to invalidate the patent. Boy would that suck for them to be told that the patent is no longer valid and never really was.

  • Microsoft WORD (.doc & .rtf) files & outlook email/newsgroup articles automatically add links if you enter in a URL in the body of the document, and you can also set up links in Adobe Acrobat files... I suppose those would be covered under a ruling for BT.
  • BBC Humor... (Score:2, Redundant)

    I loved the bit at the end of the article:

    See "internet links" for the text of BT's patent. There is no charge for doing so.

    Well, it amused me, anyway. It would appear that the BBC has a sense of humor..

  • Patents have been over-ridden before in the name of national security, etc. The earliest example I know of is the forced Licensing of the Wright Brothers Aircraft Technology to competitors during WWI. But there are others.

    So I can see a government that would force a takeover of the patent even if they win.

    Or Maybe everyone would force them to sue first.

    I can see the peasants storming the castle now.

  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Monday February 11, 2002 @01:58PM (#2987848) Journal
    If this passes, I guess you'll see plenty of dead URLs floating in Boston Harbor...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:00PM (#2987867)
    Despite the fact that there is both tons of 'prior art' and a very strong case of 'obvious nature' for this particular patent case, I think it would be interesting if BT did manage to win their case. They're hoping to claim massive amounts of royalties from companies who run websites, but I think the real effect would be that the majority of website owners, corporate and private, would simply terminate their websites.

    I think that if you kill hyperlinks, you pretty much kill the whole http-based World Wide Web.

    Where does that leave us? Well, for starters, it gets a whole lot of companies back off the internet, where they don't really belong. I think that the last decade has proven that the e-commerce model doesn't really work when brick-and-mortar sales models are more efficient. There are a few, very specialized business who manage to do business over the internet, but these are almost always in the same area that phone and mail-order business have always dominated. The major auto manufacturers are a good example of companies who don't belong on the internet. The music industry is probably another good case, since they absolutely refuse to embrace the sharing model that the internet and P2P apps have made so popular. They don't want to do business on the internet. They want to use the internet to make their brick-and-mortar businesses more profitable.

    So, let's say that all these companies get off the internet. What's left of the internet?

    E-Mail, for one. Despite the popularity of the web, E-Mail still accounts for the vast majority of internet traffic. FTP is another. Just because graphical websites go away doesn't mean that we can expect FTP sties to go away as well. FTP sites after websites, however, can be expected to have much, much more in the way of content. We can expect 'pub' directories to have much, much more in the way of specialization and indexing. Personal FTP sites would have vast amounts of things the site's owners would like or find interesting. MP3's, images both conventional and pornographic, movies, text files like e-books and fan-works, applications... The list goes on and on.

    This model for MP3 sites was almost the way things worked. In 1993, there were about an equal number of FTP- and Web-sites. HTML was so much more versatile than an FTP site, so it dominated.

    I think we'll also see a resurgance in the use of Usenet, which has been supplanted in many ways by weblogs and online message boards for BBS-type use. We may even see a resurgance in telnet-based BBS's. That would be cool.

    The thing I think we'll see the most of if the web magically went away, would be the proliferation of internet sites that use Post-http era technology. This includes any of the P2P protcols like Gnutella or FastTrack, CVS, Freenet, streaming music and video, distributed problem solving like Seti@home and Folding@home, and many, many more.

    The web is stagnant already, so this process is already beginning. Just look at the statistic figures for Gnutella or FastTrack to get an idea. I don't think BT will win their lawsuit, and I don't think that the web is going away anytime soon.

    I don't think it would necessarily be a bad thing if it did.

  • From Stephen Probert, deputy director of the UK patent office: "It seems ludicrous that a patent for one technology can cover another but patents are anything but precise and are meant to cover things that aren't yet invented," he says.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:06PM (#2987913)
    You know, how often do you read about some case that is settled, but the exact terms of the settlement were not disclosed?

    I'm cynical enough to think that maybe BT gets Prodigy to settle this for some ridiculously small amount of money ($10, or even $100,000) to make it go away, and both parties aggree, as part of the settlement, to keep the details of the settlement private.

    Now BT goes to work for Prodigy trying to go after their competitors. Just like the RAMbus nonsense, the first few get to settle on generous terms. But after that it starts to get expensive even to just settle. Because now BT has precedent on their side. "well look, all these other companies have settled to license our innovative hyperlink technology."

    The benefit to Prodigy is: A cheap settlement. The lawsuit goes away. BT goes after their competitors.

    The benefit to BT: They establish precedent. They might even get a little trickle of money ($100,000 to settle?). They get really big settlements later from the others who didn't settle early.

    If Prodigy settles, what do you want to bet that they keep the terms of the settlement a secret? Now why would they keep something a secret? What possible motivation? Obviously, it must be hugely in their interest to keep it a secret -- because it would be embarrasing to settle for such a small amount, because that would make most people realize the true evil movies of both parties. Gee, could they even agree to this under the table in advance? Okay, I'll agree to let you sue me and settle for cheap with an unlimited nonexclusive license in return. Okay, maybe now I'm being too cynical.

  • I worked at CompuServe in the mid 80's
    (for the guy that invented .GIF, using
    a "free" algorithm found in an ACM journal
    that later turned out to be patented) and
    keep in touch with people over there (CompuServe/AOL) from time to time.
    At one point, AOL had retained the ex-Compuserve CTO to do historical research into patentable
    things that the company had done. I would lay money that CompuServe/AOL will challenge this
    if it goes very far.

  • I thought Al Gore invented hyperlinking...or was that Microsoft. Now I'm all confused.
  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:11PM (#2987941) Homepage
    If you read the patent itself [] (patent office link from the article), or at least the abstract, it specifically mentions "operation of a selected key of the keyboard". (Later on it says "The terminal apparatus may include data entry means, such as a manual keyboard"). Funny if they somehow win, maybe browsers will have to remove keyboard shortcuts, but mouse and trackpad clicking is still A-OK. (And then Amercians with Disabilities Act crew will jump on it...)

    But yeah, this is really insane. Also, so many patents like this seem like they don't pass the "not obvious to a practitioner of the field" test.
  • Says a lot about our patent system. Unfortunately, it's all been said many times before.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    • It's so ridiculous that it should make people think
    • It's owned by a non-U.S. corporation. This should make the traditional patent-mongering U.S. corporations think
    • It shows exactly why the whole idea of software patents hurts society instead of helping it
    So, I wish BT the best in their pursuit of royalties for this one - it can only hasten the end of this whole embarrassingly silly fiasco.
  • Sounds like an interesting article, but I didn't click on the link to read it for fear than I was infringing on somebody's hard earned patent.

    First I had use lynx so that I wouldn't inadvertantly see any GIFS, but I suppose now I'll have to find a text-based browser that doesn't show any hyperlinks as well.

  • by LatJoor ( 464031 ) <`latjoor' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:30PM (#2988054) Homepage
    "If I patented a flying machine the patent could equally apply to helicopters and aeroplanes even though they are completely different," explains Stephen Probert deputy director of the Patent Office.

    Except that if the patent were for "a flying machine," every court in the world would see through it and realize what a farce it was. In the realm of computers, unfortunately, even such broad idea proposals are taken as some kind of intellectual accomplishment.
  • ...after they're done with Prodigy? Individuals who have web sites or the ISPs that host them?

    Since the US patent expires in 2006 and it'll probably be some time after that broadband becomes widely available in the U.S., I guess that most of us that have ever thought about hosting their own web sites will be safe, eh?

    BT has been a pain in the keister for a long time. I had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with them about ten years ago when my employer was setting up EDI. They were a pain then and, apparently, haven't gotten any better. Geez, the arrogant comments made by the BT CEO would make me want to switch from them as a supplier even if their service didn't rank near dead last.

    Let's hope that what ever judge hears this case, is astute enough to recognize prior art when s/he sees the Englebart tape. And if s/he does, I'd just love to hear the exchange between the judge and the BT lawyers as they try to wangle a case for the originality of their patent claim. Can Prodigy load the gallery with people to snicker and roll their eyes when BT laywers present their arguments?

  • OK, so the patent looks like total nonsense, and they're probably hoping to bully people into settling, but just think what would happen if the won.

    It could pretty much shut down the Web in the USA, or at least severely disrupt it, by forcing people to pay BT tax, or come up with some disgusting work-around.

    Of course, this would not apply to most of the rest of the world, because we still haven't quite given into the lobbying of the WTO and USPO types that want the rest of the world to adopt US patent silliness.

    So briefly we'd have BT holding the USA to ransom.

    Pretty soon after that the public outcry against the USPO might finally reach the ears of enough US politicians, to result in the USPO being beaten up in the manner that they've clearly deserved for years.

    The final result being that people would have their eyes opened to the stupidity of allowing patents on software and business methods.

    So, join the "BT for Web supremacy" campaign today!
  • Stupid, stupid... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:51PM (#2988281) Homepage
    BT doesn't even know how to do it right...

    You're supposed to go after a small fry evil hacker [slashdot.org] first, so as to set a precedent.

    Instead, BT is going after Prodigy, who is owned by SBC, one of the three remaining "Baby Bells", who certainly has enough ca$h to defend themselves properly.

    P.S. No offense to Mr. Corley or 2600 with the "small fry" remark. It referred strictly to company size/resources.
  • by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:01PM (#2988354) Homepage
    I'd love to see BT prevail, if only for the sheer entertainment value of it. Can you imagine? Maybe this is just the sort of thing that is needed to give patent reform a kick start. But it'd be great fun to see Jeff Bezos have to pay royalties on his one-click hyperlinks. Snicker.
  • by tempshill ( 413165 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:23PM (#2988519)
    The deputy director of the UK patent office is quoted in the article as saying, "It seems ludicrous that a patent for one technology can cover another but patents are anything but precise and are meant to cover things that aren't yet invented."

    Patents are meant to protect useful inventions! Which HAVE been invented! What a sad commentary that this guy has lost sight of the whole idea and has caved, and simply accepts the current state of what patents have *become*.
  • by TheMatt ( 541854 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:24PM (#2988531) Homepage Journal
    As I said, offtopic but not quite. A British company is trying to patent salted chips [bbc.co.uk], or fries, as we USAns know it. The group, ActionAid [actionaid.org], is trying to point out the stupidity of modern foods patent laws. Their announcement is here [actionaid.org].

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.