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BT Sues Prodigy Over Hyperlink Patent 254

Freshly Exhumed writes "British Telecom, believing (seemingly against historical fact ) that an old patent entitles it as the rightful owner of the hyperlink, has filed suit against Internet provider Prodigy. Frivolous and of little merit? Great non-quote from Tim Berners-Lee!"
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BT Sues Prodigy Over Hyperlink Patent

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  • As you should all by now know, patents are interpretted based on their claims. The claims of this patent [] have a couple of major problems.

    First, the patent claims call out a central computer (server), and a plurality of remote terminal means (clients), and modems. This means that the owners of the server can at best be sued for contributory infringement [bitlaw.com] which means that they, along with the users, together infringe. This is a much harder case.

    Second, most computers currently used are not terminals, they are independent PCs. Therefore, BT must use the doctrine of equivalents [mwe.com] to show infringement. This is not easy.

    Third, the claims are in the "means for" format. This means that only the appartus that is actually described in the specification can infringe the patent. Now the specification (which is the body of the patent) describes a system that uses analog modems to connect to a central computer via telephone lines (no network here).

    This patent really appears to be about using an index of abbreviations (like titles) which are individually unique, to request data. The unique titles refer to unique addresses, at which the data is located. This certainly is not hyperlinks, except by the most strained of interpretations.

    Don't expect this case to change the world of patents. Maybe, expect this case to be settled, if BT is asking for less than a lawyer would charge (if the licensing fee is under $100,000, it's just simpler to pay up... a standard patent lawsuit costs $1.5M [patent-infringement.com] or more.) Or, expect this patent go away when at the Markman hearing [google.com] it is interpretted to not cover hyperlinks.


    This is not legal advice, so don't even think it.

  • by cluge ( 114877 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:01AM (#556319) Homepage
    Hmmm, aren't they ignoring the people at CERN?

    Ted Nelson, who is generally acknowledged to have coined the term hypertext in his 1965 book, "Literary Machines."

    Isn't BT in danger of losing it's patent? I mean if enough substantial information can be shown that "hyperlinks" existed before BT pateted them, then can't BT lose the patent? Not being familliar with English law, can Prodigy sue BT for bringing a "frivilous" lawsuit?

    I guess in the end it's a gamble, and BT is going to take it. If it wins, then it gets MONEY, and more importantly sets a precedent. If it loses, it can always try again at a later date. I think somone needs to make this game that BT is playing untenable. How about a class action suit against BT by every person that has a web page? I'm not a lawyer so I can't think of any fancy charges to sue BT for (you can't sue for stupidity) but I'm sure somone can.

  • "On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of 17 researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The public presentation was a session in the of the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals.

    This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface. "

    http://sloan.stanford.edu/MouseSite/1968Demo.html [stanford.edu]

    -- Prior art, anyone?

    BT's patent is frivolous at best, what a lousy thing to try to do. This is akin to claiming the patent for steering wheels 100+ years after the automobile was invented. Hogwash! I lose more respect for patent attorneys every day.

    But do check out Doug Engelbart's demo. Notice the functionality of the ancient technology used - instead of a bitmapped display, the whole screen you see is generated on a vector CRT (Asteroids!!), photographed in a box by a TV camera and then sent as a negative image to the operator's CRT (a TV, really.) This also allowed for the 'picture in picture' effect with the split screen, half showing the text display (notice the mouse cursor), the other half showing a remote TV image of the operator of the other console.

    Other amazingly well thought out stuff is shown in this demo, including embedded hyperlinks and inlined illustrations, as well as a modern-looking file browser and a powerful hierarchical annotation system.

  • by Stonehand ( 71085 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:01AM (#556322) Homepage
    It'll be bad if BT offers, and Prodigy accepts, a settlement that's relatively cheap compared to the legal expense of fighting it, and if BT then offered the same deal to others.
  • C'mon, I mean really... The hyperlink patent BS again? This in just stupid. What's next, an MS patent on breathing? If we don't get this kind of frivolous litigation under control, things on the web (development-wise) are going to grind to a halt. All I can say is wow... this is bloody dumb. I am so mad I could spit, but hey, I am sure someone has a patent on that too.
  • by Refried Beans ( 70083 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @09:39AM (#556325) Homepage
    Is is possible to get a Slashdot interview witht his law firm? I would like to know just how a law firm like this expects not to damage its reputation.
  • Prodigy may not have deep pockets, but Southwest Bell does, and (according to their DSL home page) they are acquiring Prodigy.
  • It's about time a statue was written extracting some gruesome penalty for filing these frivolous patent suits. Like maybe you are fined the amount of money expected in your suit, or maybe the lawyers involved should be faced with losing their bar certification in all 50 states, or something. Right now this stupidity goes on because there is a potential reward for doing it but no risk for failing. There needs to be a risk to put things back in balance. And it needs to be a motherfucker of risk. . .
  • Please go to:


    and tell them what you think of their lawsuit.

  • Prodigy is just an ISP now - right? (or do they still do their own access software like AOL?)

    So, if they are just an ISP providing access, how are they the ones to sue? TCP/IP&PPP doesn't use hyperlinks.

    Shouldn't they be going after Microsoft (IE), AOL (Netscape), Opera, Microsoft (IIS), Apache, etc.. who actually have software that deal with hyperlinks.

    And even then, going after web servers is somewhat of a stretch, since all they return is data and it's the browser that makes a hyperlink out of it.

    Not that I think this suit has any merit. If the original article is correct in their patent covering links to "hidden text", then it sounds like all they have a patent on is easter eggs!
  • More on the above...

    From SBC's FAQ's page [prodigy.com]

    Q. Why is my telephone company offering Prodigy Internet?

    A. Ameritech, Nevada Bell Telephone, Pacific Bell Telephone, SNET, Southwestern Bell Telephone, and Prodigy Internet are affiliates of SBC Corporation Inc. SBC is proud to offer Prodigy Internet as the exclusive Internet provider for SBC's affiliates.

    Seems to me that BT may be picking someone bigger than they thought...
  • Not being familliar with English law, can Prodigy sue BT for bringing a "frivilous" lawsuit?

    BT don't have a patent on hyperlinks under British law, because, under British law, you can't patent software...

    Sensible, that.

  • context covers a multitude of spelling sins.
  • I did some research earlier this year to establish if there was sufficient evidence to show prior art in BT's claims. Indeed, Nelson's Xanadu was a working concept which was publicly available, and was created 7 years prior to BT's inception of it's technology. Also, note that BT's patent specifically covers teletext devices attached to servers, and not networked computers. My question is, why not go after Minitel? Oh wait, I remember, too late you stupid jerks. They only "rediscovered" it 3 years ago. Sounds like an important technology to them, huh? I bet they even had a website at the time...
  • by Spit_Fire1 ( 247104 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:02AM (#556341)
    "Early in the year after discovering in a routine check that it owned the patent for the hyperlink, BT wrote to 17 U.S. ISPs (Internet service providers), including Prodigy, asking them to pay for the privilege of using the technology through licensing agreements."

    Last time I checked everyone around the world uses hyperlinks so, why not charge everyone for the useage? Because then a new version of html would comeout and instead of hyperlinks they would have superlinks(or hydrolinks,or Knock-offlinks) which would be completely different and with out copyright or patent. BT is just trying to make a quick buck.
  • Even if they do have a valid patent on hyperlinking, shouldn't they sue either the web browser companies (MS, Netscape and Opera) or the people who use hyperlinks (web page authors)? All the ISP does is transmit requests for data and data, the actual use of a hyperlink takes place on a users computer. God does BT need a good bitch slapping.
  • by Col. Klink (retired) ( 11632 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:03AM (#556347)
    BT is using the law firm of Kenyon & Kenyon, which /. readers ought to remember as the lawyers who sent out C&D's to CueCat web sites.
  • Software patents work IF the invention is sufficiently unique, not based on prior art, AND has not yet been released to the public before it is approved at to allow competitors and non-competitors alike to understand and use that method. Amazon's 1-click, for example, was quite obviously on their site before they got *awarded* the patent (they had applied for it before they used 1-click, of course), and B&N was sued after Amazon was awarded it, only because B&N borrowed the idea that wasn't obviously patented at the time. Of course, the idea of 1-click isn't sound to begin with. On the other hand, things like compression algorythms which are developed in house and not released to the world until patented are ok.

    But, of course, at the speed of computer software, this creates a dilemma - do you hold on to a software idea until you get the patent by which point the idea may be outdated, or do you release it to the world to gain whatever benefits you can without the protection of a patent?

  • Yes, Prodigy's still around. Its two main owners are a) Telmex, or at least its controlling owner Carlos Slim, and b) SBC, the American mega-Bell telco.

    So there are Prodigy posters on every pay phone in Mexico. And Prodigy picked up all of SBC's DSL and retail customers, including the PacBell area. Thus it's not the same company that Sears and IBM owned, and it's acting like any other retail ISP, but it's still pretty big.
  • Becuase you can't have hypertext without a linking mechanism. Since BT's patent claims revolve around a hypertextual linking mechanism, a prior example of a hypertext system (description or device, patents involve ideas and not having physically made something yet) would a priori contain a linking system that would be prior art WRT the BT patent. IIRC BT's patent was from 1974, this article was published 29 years prior to that. Hope that's clear, or something. :-)


  • On the other hand, let's say that the little guy has been cranking out the black boxes 2 or 3 a month for a couple years, and doesn't seem to be able to improve his production beyond that any.

    The big company gets wind of this cool device, comes to the little guy & says up front, "We'd like to license your technology so that we can create 200,000/month at $100/unit. This'll make us & you a lot of money, and help save the environment."

    Now for whatever reason, the little guy has a small ego problem so he refuses to license his technology to anybody. Because the patent lasts for 17 years (or is it up to 20 yet?), society isn't going to be able to access the benefits of that technology (which is the whole point of the patent process!) until that 17 years is up.

    On the other hand, if the patent term is a lot shorter, but long enough for a little guy to make some bucks, then society won't be deprived of the benefits of the technology either way - either the little guy is gonna make it, or after a reasonable amount of time, anybody can use the technology & society will benefit.
  • The Memex [virginia.edu] idea may also be worth mentioning.
  • by linuxci ( 3530 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @12:23PM (#556358)
    Is gnu.org gonna remove all hyperlinks from their pages and put up a message "No hyperlinks due to patent problems" :)
  • But seriously, am I one of an extream minority who doesn't see BT as the great evil? Sure, their claim is full of crap. But I don't think it is due to evil tendencies on their part. Doesn't it seem at least possible that they're simply cogs in monkey suits making descisions about technology they don't understand in the slightest? BT like many large companies, probably doesn't propigate signal as well as it propigates noise.

    In that company there are people making descisions about subjects they have no understanding. You may have engineers who are loath to admit, but feel that truly the BT patent does speak specifically about hyperlinks. Again the subtleties of the law might be lost on them and their finding of fact might very well be incorrect yet honest, and honestly regreted. The lawyers on the other hand most assuredly have at most a superficial understanding of the technical issues at hand. So can their findings of fact be technically accurate? Then come the PR people they have the unsavory task of justifing the action. Fortunately for them marketing people are usually the most ignorant, and so they don't appreaciate the gravity of what they are being told. They blindly parrot, "Hyperlinks are our idea. It is wrong to steal others ideas. We're just asking for what is ours." When confronted with conflicting information, they just imagine that in some way it probably fits together ok, but the person asking the question is just as ignorant, so they don't see it either. All the while the world at large (well the part worth talking about) is also asking a different question. The world is asking, "Is it right?" Not nessecarily if its technically correct (and I think there are great many levels where you can argue that it isn't and few if any for the converse) but rather if it is ethically correct. At British Telecom, perhaps only the engineers and other barers of "The Book of Common Wisdom" (available from DelRay in paperback), understand what the lawyers are asking, and how utterly foolish the PR people are making them look. The PR people have been told by the lawyers that this is a legal request, they know naught of the law, the patent, or the tool in question. They're being asked to do something that they can't determine to be illegitimate. So are the lawyers. The engineers in the name of absolute accuracy are probably offering up a, "Yes..but..." to the Gods of Ignorance, and the process proceeds without them. These are adversarial systems in the US and UK so you can't trust your adversaries to offer up accurate depictions of the situation.

    The people at the very top are probably either unaware of how much of their credibility is as stake or are keenly aware that they are low on both credibility and cash, so why not roll the dice. If either the people with the power had the knowledge or vice versa, then we wouldn't be bothering with all this. All it boils down to is a giant company where the right arm doesn't know what the left is doing, while the on lookers watch. Its silly, but what large company doesn't do things like that? Xerox? Apple? IBM? Microsoft?

    This is a pretty small problem, the kind our social machinery is good at solving. After all it's not like they have anything resembling a reasonable argument. Wouldn't it be better to worry about the ones that have a case and are decidedly against the intrests to our happy little collective?

    Maybe all BT offers us is a chance to laugh; both at them, and at ourselves. If you work at a large company, can you say yours is really that different?

  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @09:48AM (#556361) Homepage
    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.
  • You mean the basic framework of the Web. The Web is not the entirety of the Internet.
  • by tez_h ( 263659 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:56AM (#556363) Homepage Journal
    Putting aside the fact that the whole issue is patently absurd, are BT even suing the right people? I don't believe content producers or ISPs who host web pages are actually implementing this "Hidden Page" technology. My reasoning is thus:

    Those who produce html web content follow the html markup guidelines. Markup tags simply indicate structure or meaning to some text on a page. So something like
    <a href="http://somewhere.com/somepage.html"> check out this reference </a>
    is merely an indicator to a reader or parser. There is no linking inherent in such a markup syntax.
    Even web server authors or those using web servers are not infringing since (at least on a very basic level) http servers simply comply to the requests of a browser: give me this page, then that page, and then this next one. Like an ftp server, there is no concept of linking, at least as described by the article.

    The only ones I can think of who are implementing hyperlinks are web browser authors. It is the browser that adds semantics to the markup, which it attempts to display on your monitor. It is the browser that actually highlights the linked text, and it is the browser that "connect[s] text, images, and other data on the Internet in such a way as to allow a user to click on a highlighted object on a Web page in order to bring up an associated item contained elsewhere on the Web".

    So BT should lose this suit, not just by way of the unwholesomeness of the patent, but also because they're trying to sue a company which isn't even infringing their patent. -Terence

  • by InfinityWpi ( 175421 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @07:47AM (#556365)
    Someone please mail/email/fax/anything Prodigy that earlier patent, just so they can make this suit look totally foolish...
  • so why not create a page that has links to .gif files that, in themselves, have links back to links.

    then we can let BT and Unisys fight each other to the death.

    now, what I'd like to know is: if you have a .gif of a browser that has links on it, do you have to pay DOUBLE??


  • by Anonymous Coward
    This could be bad. We could get sued for providing links to websites with links on them.
  • Someone should set up a peer-to-peer hyperlink sharing application so that people all over the world can share their collection of hyperlinks...

  • I think you lost me - what concept exactly were you responding to?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What the hell is wrong with the British, oh I know they are all horridly inbread, comes from living on that small island and marrying your cousins.

    We might have a few inbreds (note the spelling, fool) living in Cornwall, but we shipped most of the foul incestous beasts over to 'Britain West' (currently known as 'the USA' for political reasons) where they thrive in their native trailer parks.
  • by sulli ( 195030 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:08AM (#556383) Journal
    Would Slashdot / OSDN like to file an amicus brief pointing out the prior art and general stupidity of this?
  • by Daniel Phillips ( 238627 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:08AM (#556384)
    Everybody knows what my position [iu.edu] is on software patents, right? And yet... I approve of this patent. Why? Because:
    • 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.
  • Yes, the court system is at fault here, as that link summary does imply, since megacorp can keep a case going indefinitely. But they you must also argue that the penalties for infringing on a patent willfully are too leninent. $100's of millions is chump change to most megacorps. But imagine if the penalty was in the billions? Or criminal penalties? It reminds me of the rumor when Firestone tires were recalled: the company didn't issue a US recall, feeling that the cost of the recall would be more than the cost of any wrongful death suits that came against it.

    But yes, the patent system isn't perfect, and Kearns case is one of those that points out the flaws. But regardless of those flaws, it's still a necessary device.

  • That's the chance you take if you don't take advantage of patents. What is the possiblity that someone else, within those 17 years that would have been granted by the patent, came up with the same general concept, and patented it himself? From my experience in scientific research, it's a good probability that you're building on communicated ideas, that someone else is going to come up with the same idea as you. In addition, you still have the case where the car company does get the device via entirely legal means and patents it themselves, as 'trade secrets' don't have any strong protections (*cough*decss*cough*).

    And now, it's 20 years from the date the patent was applied for (as opposed to 17 from the granting date); the application process takes roughly 3 years, but this prevents the 'oops, I forgot to renew the application and have to pay a tiny tiny fine' abuses that some companies did do to artifically extend the patent 3 or 4 more years.

  • by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @12:42PM (#556393) Homepage Journal
    It requires that you access the 'URL' with a 'keypad' (not a mouse) .... and by my reading it could also cover FTP, and other remote file access protocols - in 1976 is was already dated (and I suspect suffers badly from the patent lawyer's attempt to try and write as wide a patent as possible)
  • by ckedge ( 192996 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @09:03AM (#556397) Journal

    It would be one thing if their 'innovation' had actually ended up in something useful being done. IE: if they had never come up with it or patented it, would it have changed *ANYTHING*??? Have they actual created *ANY* value in the world?

    The answer is clearly no. (They discovered that they had the patent...)

    Please, pretty please, if in the distant future any of you come across someone who was involved in deciding to move ahead with actions like this, whether they are former managers, lawers, etc etc, please, give them a F****NG earful!

    It's too bad big companies weren't lead by real leaders. Real leaders would see this for what it is, gang up, and drive BT into the ground.

    "Hey Larry
    (1), this is Bill(2). Have you seen the BT hyperlink thing? . Yeah, me too. I've got a few million to throw in the pot to intervene in the case. How about you? .. Great! . Have your people call my people. . Now you call Scott(3) and I'll call Ted(4) and Steve(5), and we'll crush these worthless leaches."

    (1) Elison
    (2) Gates
    (3) McNealy
    (4) Turner
    (5) Case

  • could we then file a class action suit against british telecom for every broken hyperlink ever? this suit is so retarded it hurts. when did technology fall from the hands of righteous nerds into stupid lawyers and corporate idiots? tis a sad day. --rhad
  • However, it is a lawyer's job to argue on behalf of his or her client, regardless of what he or she thinks about that client. I think that this is a rather bad way for things to be

    I disagree strongly. I think its a very good way for things to be. However, I think there's a huge difference between "arguing on behalf of the client" and "arguing any half-baked legal crap the client pulled out of his ass."

    The legal system is large, complicated, and scary. If you find yourself embroiled in it, you must have someone familiar with it working on your behalf, or you will be chewed, swallowed, and shat out, long before you know what happened.

    But any law firm that hasn't politely but firmly explained to BT why this lawsuit is a very, very bad idea is most definately not working on the behalf of BT. They're working on the behalf of BT's checkbook. And there's a big difference, even for lawyers.
  • They'll get no more than 4 years out of the patent, so I'm not overly worried. Assume the lawsuit and appeals take at least a year, and the patent was granted in '89, almost 12 years ago. Patents last 17 years, which while ridiculously long, doesn't leave them much time at this point.

    Worst case scenario, ISPs start charging an extra $5 a month for service for four years, and at the end of that time BT is a total outcast in the telecom community. Stupid? Yes. Annoying? Yes. A catastrophe? No.

    Besides, as others have said, they probably won't win.

  • Brian Transeau is a DJ better known as BT and puts his albums out under that name. Liam Howlett is the musician for the band Prodigy.
  • >>Isn't BT in danger of losing it's patent? I mean if enough substantial information can be shown that "hyperlinks" existed before BT pateted them, then can't BT lose the patent? Not being familliar with English law, can Prodigy sue BT for bringing a "frivilous" lawsuit?<<
    It's not about English law. BT "discovered that it owns the U.S. patent for the invention of the hyperlink technology" (emphasis added) and is bringing the suit in a U.S. federal court [uscourts.gov]. (See the article already referred to [idg.net].)

    Still doesn't really answer the question about whether they might lose their patent, but it seemed fair to clarify.

    Common sense would seem to suggest that their getting the patent in the first place was inappropriate, though. Hopefully this case will be thrown out and/or BT sufficiently humiliated as to cut it out with this sort of thing.

  • Also Ted Nelson's book Dream Machines/Computer Lib and hyperlinks to xanadu [xanadu.com] & udanax [udanax.com] might be appropriate.
  • I'm noticing that slashdot users seem to think that any demonstration or article that describes anthing related to a patent is prior art for the patent.

    Now, IANAL, but I own a good dictionary... The only think that would constitute prior art is an apparatus that corresponds precisely to that in a patent claim, and not one that is a bit similar, contains some of the same pieces, was invented by the same guy, involves some of the same buzzwords, or something like that. I'll restate this for the extra-thick-skulled users out there: The patent covers only that which is described in a claim, and nothing else.

    Now, given this, I'd like to suggest that: - Slashdot users get their asses in gear and find some real prior art. AFAIK, none of the descibed systems that have been suggested as prior art contain a modem, for example.

  • But again, what if the guy had no idea he was selling it to a company? Without patents, a company could screw over this guy without the guy knowing how they got their information.
  • BT is an ISP (among other things). If they can take money (and business) from other ISPs, it benefits them. But they want the rest of the web and its underpinnings to flourish so they can make even more money. It's not much use being an ISP if there are no browsers, web sites, and so on. But BT thinks it would be a lot of fun to ding all the other ISPs.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:14AM (#556432) Homepage Journal
    It's about time BT tried to enforce this patent. This is good news. Prodigy is a big company that can afford the legal resources to defend itself against this ridiculously absurd patent.

    I expect that it'll be an easy case for Prodigy. And once Prodigy wins, the patent will be null and void. This is good for all of us, because it means that we can all go on our merry way developing and using web products. If BT had selected first target that didn't have the bucks to hire good lawyers, the case might have gone the other way.

    Worst-case scenario? BT wins, Microsoft goes to BT for an exclusive license to their innovative hyperlinking technology, and all other developers effectively become legally barred from writing or publishing web software. (Ok, it's a stretch, but worst-case scenarios usually are.)
  • For the past 6 years, I have held a patent on providing utterly abysmal telephone and internet service to the British people. I now feel the time is right to enforce it.

    BT - I'm warning you - watch your back.
  • Considering that Al Gore invented the internet, I don't see where BT are getting off saying that they own hyperlinks on it :-)
  • I'd say that BT was stupid here, but if you read The Register, you'd know that they're stupid just about EVERYWHERE. I think we need to get the BOFH a job there., He'd sort them out...
  • by donglekey ( 124433 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:16AM (#556439) Homepage
    BT rocks, I especially like Lullaby To Gaia and Believer, oh wait, the article is talking about British Telecom. I wonder if they do any techno?
  • I move that all future IP infrigement disputes be resolved in the Deathmatch ring, with the winner of the dispute being the survivor of the deathmatch.
  • Nelson's work was mentioned in the article. It definitely influenced the Web technology.
  • a central computer means in which plural blocks of information are stored at respectively corresponding locations, each of which locations is designated by a predetermined address therein by means of which a block can be selected, each of said blocks comprising a first portion containing information for display and a second portion containing information not for display but including the complete address for each of plural other blocks of information;

    In the html for a hyperlink, the extra linking info is first, and the "information for display" comes second. Not the other way 'round as they describe. Nyah nyah! :-P

    Furthermore, it could go all sorts of places in RAM or on disk. And, a relative URL doesn't contain "the complete address".

    Forget prior art. Charge the idiots with fraud for trying to get money based on this crap.

  • It's about time a statue was written extracting some gruesome penalty for filing these frivolous patent suits.

    Sure. And then the little guy would never dare sue anybody for fear of losing everything. It's like giving deep pockets a license to steal.

  • Really? The guy had to litigate, sure, but he wound up with millions. Without patents, he wouldn't have had grounds to sue.

    Laws against murder don't protect you from getting murdered, they merely set up penalties if you do get murdered. So by your analysis of patents not working, if you do get murdered, then the murder laws don't work.
  • I read the title and thought about techno bands suing each other.

    (BT and The Prodigy are (relatively) mainstream techno for those who don't know.)


  • Doesn't Amazon's 1-Click Shopping Patent [slashdot.org] use this "hyperlink technology"?

    It's too bad they didn't sue Amazon.com first to kill that patent before being blown out of the water themselves when they sue someone like Prodigy. Oh, well. Maybe the next company with a frivolous lawsuit will do a better job.

    By the way, how does a company "discover" that it has a patent for something?

    Mr. VP: "Johnson, what is that sticking out of your ass?"

    Johnson: "I don't know sir, let me check..."


    Johnson: "Why, it looks like a patent for hyperlinks."

    Mr VP: "Hmmm, do you think we can still collect royalties even though one of our engineers pulled this patent out of his ass?"

  • because ub 'one click shopping', your clicking on a hyperlink, eh?

  • I'm not surprised BT are not concerned about their reputation when putting forward this lawsuit. In the UK, they have a reputation somewhere between a rabit rattlesnake and a left over tuna sandwich found, 2 years later, behind a chair. After decades of metered phone calls, a refusal to believe an always-on Internet user market exists, prices which competitors find easy to beat even despite them having to lay their own cable, and all the other obnoxiousness associated with being a practical monopoly and regarding your obligations as a monopoly to still be to your shareholders above all else, this cesspool of a phone company isn't about do an Al Gore Concession-speech of telecommunications.

    Around 30% of the UK public have signed up to cable-based competitors, despite cable being available to only just above 50% of the UK population, despite the fact that "competitors" are limited by BT's tariffs and interconnect regimes, and despite the fact that cable companies over there have the same, incompetent, badly organised reputation that they have in the US. Companies like MCI Worldcom in New York would kill to have sign up rates that high, even AT&T Long Distance has not done that badly keeping existing customers, and competition has been available in the US long distance market for much longer.

    What I see here are two positive aspects to this sorry mess. Firstly, if the hyperlinks patent is upheld (and, as, despite simplifications suggesting the contrary, it is not a patent on all hypertext but the notion of using a hypertext system over phone lines, it would seem quite possible that it will be upheld), then this is the biggest argument against software patents we've seen so far. It puts the Unisys/LZW patent in the shadows, a patent whose impact and dishonesty was only understood by a handful of academics and geeks. It's a clear, visible, example of how "patent bombs" can be planted, to profit from independently developed examples of the obvious, years later.

    The second is that it will backfire on BT. They may not care, but in the UK, where antitrust law is limited and rarely results in the break-up of companies, they may find Parliament considering to do just that over its behaviour so far. The issue right now is Internet access, and BT's attempts to reduce its popularity, attempts which the latest figures, which show a drop in sign up rates, suggest is working. With BT being seen on both sides of the Atlantic to be the enemy of the Internet, I can see more effort than ever being used to deal with them, from political pressure to the 'net community organising against it.

    If Prodigy loses, and AOL loses, and Worldcom loses, and BT walks away with the Internet usage royalties, it will be the end of patents, and the end of BT. And that can't come soon enough.

  • "Slow down cowboy!

    Slashdot requires you to wait 1 minute between each submission of /comments.pl in order to allow everyone to have a fair chance to post.

    It's been 60 seconds since your last submission!"

    Last I heard, 60 seconds WAS 1 minute, heheh.

  • It's so ridiculous that it should make people think

    You know, that's the kind of thinking that got Bush elected. In four years, tell me if you still agree...

  • by Dr. Awktagon ( 233360 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:39AM (#556479) Homepage

    That was a pretty funny article! Whoever wrote it did a good job coming up with quotes for British Telecom that sounded real. And this was the best part:

    British Telecommunications PLC (BT), which earlier in the year said it had discovered that it owns the U.S. patent for the invention of the hyperlink technology used on the Internet, has sued U.S.-based Prodigy Communications Corp. for copyright infringement.
    "Discovered the patent," I love it! Like some company is digging through their dusty attic and finds they have the patent for the wheel. Eureka! And like any company would be so stupid to try and enforce it!

    If it wasn't for the mistake of saying "copyright infringement" instead of "patent infringement", I would've believed it. Damn, even the IDG logo looks real.

    Hey..wait a minute.. oh crap.

  • by _|()|\| ( 159991 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:39AM (#556480)
    I expect that it'll be an easy case for Prodigy. And once Prodigy wins, the patent will be null and void.

    Don't count on Prodigy doing the Right Thing. All BT has to do is convince Prodigy that licensing the patent is cheaper than taking the case to court, even if it is guaranteed to win. Look at all the companies that rolled over for Rambus. Prodigy doesn't have morals. It's a publicly traded company.

  • Prodigy ain't that big and rich right now--they've lost over 90% of their traded value in the last year.

    Which of course is exactly why BT probably went after them.

  • Corporate-owned copyrights get 90 years now.

  • by bad-badtz-maru ( 119524 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @07:54AM (#556484) Homepage

    When the first sentence of the article, which concerns potential patent infringement, ends in the statement "has sued U.S.-based Prodigy Communications Corp. for copyright infringement", one can only wonder about the accuracy of the entire article. I suspect they would be suing for patent infringement, not copyright infringement.

  • ``BT said that it would not pursue patent claims with individual users, as it would "not be practical."''

    Hah! More like ``it wouldn't be profitable''. Individuals don't have Prodigy's deep pockets.

    Stop The Insanity!


  • by Anonymous Coward
    hey troll whore learn something about the law. patent violations can be ignored for a long time and then violators can be sued a whole lot. It's pretty kewlio for big corps yo.
  • I'm using a hyperlink! [cjb.net]

    SUE ME!

  • Methinks that geeks would actually be better at finding prior art than lawyers. Presumably, lawyers look through legislation and case law like geeks look through source code. Prior art is not to be found there. It is to be found by industry research, and the best indurstry researchers are those in the business.

    Lawyers are experts at taking evidence and swaying a judge and/or jury with them, but they are not usually experts at collecting evidence. That's why we have expert witnesses. Heck, even Perry Mason had a private investigator ;^>

  • ...should be along the lines of this (in an article on The Register covering the suit):

    ``When we explained the situation to one woman, she just laughed. Out loud. Uncontrollably.''

    Can't understand why this has gotten as far as it has.


  • by djKing ( 1970 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @07:54AM (#556494) Homepage Journal
    IF they loose, then it's one less bad patent.

    If they win then AOL has got to be on their hit list, and suddenly patent reform is at the top of the political agenda at least as seen by CNN. Gofigure.

    Sooner or later one of these things has got to lead to reform, cause it's such a mess now.


  • Brian Transeau vs. Liam Howlett! Total Turntableism! May the best beats win. Oh wait...
  • Last time I checked everyone around the world uses hyperlinks so, why not charge everyone for the useage? Because then a new version of html would comeout and instead of hyperlinks they would have superlinks (or hydrolinks,or Knock-offlinks) which would be completely different and with out copyright or patent.

    Yeah! Then HTML would fade into obscurity just like GIFs, MP3s, and the x86 instruction set did. Only true hacker loremasters remember those things anymore.

  • by DanMcS ( 68838 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @11:06AM (#556500)
    <fake>ESR has announced that december 18th will be Burn All Hyperlinks day, and put up a page about it here... ah, crap</fake>
  • There might be a conspiracy theory behind this. Prodigy can also lose and form a partnership with BT. That would be a win-win situation as Prodigy would have BT eliminating Prodigy's competitors over this new precident.
  • IIRC, Vanavar (sp?) Bush talked about having a global, hypertextual web of information in the late 1940s (48?49?), which is discussed somewhere in Brook's Mythical Man Month I think (or maybe it was Levy's Hackers, I've been reading both in the past few days and they are starting to blend together). Even if he didn't patent anything, his writings are a part of public record. When is BT claiming their patent is from again? ;-)

    OK, I actually found some substantive evidence:

    • An academic paper [ucsd.edu] segement talking about hypertext, which contains a reference to:
    • As We May Think [theatlantic.com] by Vanavar Bush, Atlantic Monthly, 1945. Credited in the academic piece as being the first mention in print of hypertextual documents (and you sort of have to have a hyperlink to have a hypertext).


  • Do you mean like the old World Wide File System (WWFS), which let you access the whole WWW as a file system?

    I suppose after you mount the WWFS on your system, you could copy your web pages into it (your web server would grant you write permission) and delete your originals, leaving your web pages wholly resident within the WWW -- whatever physical file system your WWW server is using is invisible to you.

    I suppose if you mounted Gnutella as a filesystem on your web server you'd also be sharing your hyperlinks...

  • I move that all future IP infrigement disputes be resolved in the Deathmatch ring, with the winner of the dispute being the survivor of the deathmatch. (greyfox)

    What do you think a US C&D letter coupled with the threat of US Civil Litigation is?

  • by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @07:56AM (#556521)
    I've just filed my patent application for being British. Guess we'll be talking about the Not-French Telecom pretty soon.
  • Ah, there may be a flaw in your thinking.

    If you settle a lawsuit out of court, that doesn't create legal precedent. That only happens when the court itself actually decides the case.

    Now having a few companies cave into the demands by BT may help get other companies nervous enough to cave, but that doesn't actually hurt the case of a company that decides to fight BT's patent.

  • by seanmeister ( 156224 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @07:57AM (#556523)
    ....someone could come up with a patent on comment moderation.
  • by AtrN ( 87501 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @11:16AM (#556524) Homepage
    Forget the 1940s prior art. The patent was filed in 1980 and basically attempts to claim any central machine with telephone connected terminals and menu-like means of getting second blocks of information using keyed data of lesser extent than the full address of said blah, blah...

    A large number of mainframe and minicomputer installations at that time included dial up access to menu-based systems. The ones I used did or something implanted false memories in my brain. The patent is invalidated by common practice at the time it was filed let alone prior art from 40 years (almost) before.

    What it neat-ish is it is a good early example of bogus behaviour by the US PTO. They were being stupid in 1980 so it actually isn't such a recent phenomon. Problem is we're currently screwed as well as being screwed for the next 20 or 30 years until we get a clue about IP in this era.

    Oh, BTW, there's a load (and I mean load) of really bad software patents we all infringe every day. IBM have many - drawing programs, forms - Microsoft have them too (read them, some are awful) - all the large players do. As Gregory Aharonian [bustpatents.com] once said,

    Q. How do you know your software infringes a patent?

    A. It exists.
    The "it" being your software.
  • As it is the job of a construction company to build the buildings their clients pay for. But if they don't agree with the politics of their client or the proposed use of the building, they're free to skip the job.

    For instance, a company whose owner doesn't believe in the death penalty would probably not take a contract to build an execution chamber at a prison.

    Similarly, a lawyer can decide who they want to represent (in most not criminal cases). If they represent some reprehensible slime, they lower themselves to their client's level.

    I feel perfectly justified in tarring the client AND the lawyer with the same brush, if the lawyer knows full well what their client is trying to do.

  • According to BT's Orr, the company is wholly unconcerned about generating any negative publicity by suing for the use of such a commonly used Internet technology. "We're looking for no more or no less than is appropriate for the rights to our intellectual property. It is a reasonable action," Orr said.

    Reasonable action. I just think it's so funny that their legal engine is going to plow through and rack up fees et al. Reasonable action would be for them to recognize that this has been prior art described in the 1965 work. In some ways, this has always been prior art with texts referring to another part of the book with the ever famous, "See chapter 3".

    Reasonable action - they can bite my shiny, metal...

  • Is is possible to get a Slashdot interview witht his law firm? I would like to know just how a law firm like this expects not to damage its reputation.

    It may hurt its reputation in your eyes, but it helps their reputation in the eyes of the people who will be hiring them-- that is, all the people who want to file frivolous lawsuits. If they win, or manage to get any money at all out of Prodigy, it will actually look pretty good to prospective customers.
  • Well, a lawyers job is also to advise his clients on the merits of their case. I see 3 likely scenarios:

    K&K tells DC and BT that their claims are meritless, unenforceable, laughable, and likely to result in nothing but hefty fees payable to K&K. The clients insist K&K pursue the case anyways. It could happen. Since DC came up with this whole CueCat idea (and the infomercial) w/out thinking very far ahead, it seems plausible that they would be too stupid to listen to their lawyers. BT could expect a loss, but be gambling that a win would mean mega-bucks and worth the gamble.


    K&K honestly and truly believe that base-64+XOR and hyperlinks are patentable, and advised their clients to pursue their cases. If you believe one is IP, it's not too far of a jump to believe the other. Makes you pity their clients...


    K&K know how silly this all is, but they get paid either way and misrepresent the cases to their clients. I like to "assume stupidity over malice," and looking at their letters and non-responses to the CueCat sites makes me strongly suspect stupidity.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @09:30AM (#556543) Homepage
    I've read about something similar in English common law, called Trial by Combat [fwkc.com]. The accuser and accused fight to the death, God was supposed to ensure that the right person won. Given that the common law of the United States is directly derived from the common law of England, one of the parties to the dispute could petition the judge for a trial by combat.
  • No, you still need to protect the small-time inventor.

    Example: a guy develops, for all practical purposes, a black box that you can attach to a car engine and increase your gas milage by 200%. Assume the case where he cannot have a patent. Assuming that he's done this for the good of the world, he's going to continue making these boxes; he might only be able to get out 2 a week, and to recover equipment costs of $300 per box, he charges $350 for them. Word's going to get around, and he might end up on a local news story. A car maker employee might see that, notify his company, and they send someone in plainclothes to the inventor, and ask to buy a device. He agrees, the car employee takes the device back to their labs, opens it up and figures out the entire inner workings of it. They then figure that they can make the same device, at a cost of only $100, with a $75 profit on each box, but with a large initial captail to build the mass production plant. Two months later, the car company is heralded as innovative, while the inventor gets nothing.

    With patents in place, the inventor is sufficiently rewarded for having that patent, either by selling the patent or licensing it. If a car company does try to reverse engineer the design, the inventor has legal recourse for that.

    The concept of patents are not bad, but they have to be applied right. Physical and chemical inventions are generally done correctly, while most software patents are poorly done. But this is not to say that I haven't seen bad invention patent, nor that there aren't any good software ones, but there does need to be a significant adjustment in how we grant and review them. The BT one, for example, has strong prior art, and should never have been granted. The Amazon.com one-click was one where they were awarded the patent well after the one-click idea was in place in the public, and instead, A.com should have not used one-click until they were granted the patent, such they they can say it was protected.

  • Why only ISPs?
    Because BT is an ISP. Hurting other ISPs' benefits them (or so they probably figure). Web browsers, authoring tools, and web sites themselves help BT, make money. So why go after them? The more content there is out there, the more ISP services BT can sell.
  • Don't count on Prodigy doing the Right Thing

    But you can help create an atmosphere in which they feel encouraged, perhaps.

    Prodigy Biz
    P.O. Box 1969
    Stafford, TX 77497-1969
    Phone: (281) 276-7900
    Email: info@prodigybiz.net

    Strategic Alliances
    Long Term Strategic Relationships
    Contact: Ken Domnitz: alliances@prodigy.net

    Press Inquiries
    Please call (512) 527-1120

    Job Opportunities
    Contact Human Resources: human_resources@prodigy.net

    Corporate Headquarters Telephone Number
    (512) 527-1500

    I know, you might have to use the _phone_!
  • Prodigy is in a partnership with SouthwestBell (SBC). I know, I'm a PacBell/SBC customer.

    Maybe BT wants part of SBC?
  • Did anyone notice that the article talking about BT suing Prodigy over hyperlinks was itself using hyperlinks?

    And why go after web pages and ISPs? The real "implementation" of hyperlinks is in web browsers, and there's a much better case to made against Microsoft than there is against Prodigy. Why is BT suing the end-user and not the implementers?
  • So now BT's played their hand, and their first target is a middle-ground network? Hello, if I was BT, I'd first target a certain pending mega-merger corp that claims to have the largest subscriber base. (cough*aol*cough) I think that BT knows they are on tenous ground, and their best shot is a company in the similar assets range compared to themselves, since we all know the one with the most money wins every lawsuit.

    (and the IDG article is good, as it points out that prior art exists in 1965. Ooops).

  • by Xanni ( 29201 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @09:25PM (#556557) Homepage
    I work with Ted on Project Xanadu. The first edition of "Literary Machines" was published in 1981. The correct citation for his coining of the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" is his 1965 article "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate" published in the Communications of the ACM.
  • The author of the article links to the previous Slashdot story where prior art is seemingly demonstrated in a an old video, potentially negating BT's claim of ownership of (gag) hypertext...

    So what the HECK happened with that? Did anyone even attempt to refute the patent on those grounds?

  • by Tower ( 37395 ) on Friday December 15, 2000 @08:00AM (#556567)
    I'll just send them the URL...

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman