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MIT Lecturer Defends His Standing As Email Inventor 249

hapworth writes "IT professionals were recently outraged to hear that the Smithsonian acquired some code from MIT lecturer VA Shiva Ayyadurai who has convinced no less august pubs than Time Magazine and The Washington Post that he invented email. While objectors howl on forums and message boards, VA Shiva Ayyadurai spoke up today to defend his standing as email's creator, claiming he doesn't regret not patenting it because he doesn't believe in software patents."
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MIT Lecturer Defends His Standing As Email Inventor

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  • Maybe... (Score:5, Funny)

    by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:38PM (#39142049)

    ... but Ray Tomlinson at BBN invented the use of the "@" sign.

    • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Funny)

      by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:42PM (#39142105) Homepage Journal

      ... but Ray Tomlinson at BBN invented the use of the "@" sign.

      Yeah, but Chuck Norris was the first one to use it.

      oh, and ..

      In Soviet Russia email patents YOU!

      • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Funny)

        by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:21PM (#39142499)

        Only after Bruce Lee showed him how. Twice.

    • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Informative)

      by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:43PM (#39142121)

      and Ray used it to send e-mail between different machines in 1971 on the ARPANET. How this 1978 guy's claim has any legs I don't get.

      • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:16PM (#39142443) Journal

        and Ray used it to send e-mail between different machines in 1971 on the ARPANET. How this 1978 guy's claim has any legs I don't get

        There are a lot of things claimed by a lot of people but it does NOT mean they are the actual inventors.

        As far as I can recall, I've been using "emails" since 1975

        If that 1978 guy wants to claim that he invented "email", let him claim

        Those of us who know better, know better

    • Good point. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:45PM (#39142137)

      Many DIFFERENT items go into a modern email system.

      Tomlinson "invented" the practice of using the @ sign.

      Ayyadurai may have been the first person to use the term "email".
      But there is no evidence that he invented the concept of electronic messages between people.

      • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:00PM (#39142307) Journal

        Even if he is the first to use the term "email" (which I don't believe), electronic mail messages that even a modern email user would recognize had been in use for the better part of seven years by 1978. The guy is a liar, and he's trying to cover it up with clever semantics games. One can trace the evolution of modern email systems with trivial ease from the Unix version 1 mail command through the RFCs detailing out header formats, message body encoding, UUCP and SMTP transmission protocols right up to RFC2822 in 2001. I don't see this asshat's name on any of the RFCs or as an author of any of the mail variants. He's a liar, or nuts. In either case, if I was MIT, I'd be looking at giving this moron his walking papers.

        • I came here to say this. This assclown is as easily disproved by simply examining the RFCs.
        • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

          by Rary ( 566291 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:41PM (#39143523)

          He is playing a ridiculous semantic game. If you look at his website, he never claims to have invented "email". He claims only to have invented "EMAIL", which is technically correct, in that he did create a program called "EMAIL". He even goes so far as to admit that the word "email" was in use previously, but that he was the first to use the word "EMAIL".

          He's a tool, and his website makes it obvious.

      • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

        by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:20PM (#39142493) Homepage

        Ayyadurai may have been the first person to use the term "email".

        Nope; that was probably BBN Mercury in 1965. Every important component to e-mail can be found by that year []; that page even specifically debunks this bozo at the top. Like a lot of things, the minute electronic mail became feasible to build, e-mail was built by multiple people. All the requirements were in place the minute a community of people on time-shared computers existed. The number of independent creations of the same thing during a short time period show it was really an obvious next step the minute two people could use the same computer.

        • Re:Good point. (Score:4, Informative)

          by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:20PM (#39142945) Homepage

          Wow, this self-important wanker even has []. The Boston interview [] seems to state his weak-ass case the best. When faced with Tomlinson's 1971 record, he says that isn't really e-mail. Apparently he thinks that some subset of having folders or blind carbon copy are somehow amazing innovations, the things that made his work modern e-mail while earlier ones were not. Whatever.

          • That dudes site has a timeline of the "history of email". He actually puts "pre EMAIL"(he's the one that uses all caps) going back to 1961. What a tool. This seems akin to someone saying they invented physical mail because they started the post office. The idea had been around and in use prior, but it didn't have the same feature set. Seriously, WTF?
          • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

            by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:41PM (#39143521) Journal

            BCC was present in RFC680, from 1975. The Unix V6 mail program didn't explicitly have mail folders, but from what I can tell of the man page for the Unix V6 mail command ( [] ), the notion that mail could stored somewhere other than the .mail file in the home directory did exist in 1975. The Unix V7 mail command (you can find its man page at [] on page 112) most certainly does support saving mail to multiple mailbox files (and what is an mbox file but a bloody folder, which is essentially what Thunderbird still uses with an additional index file). It's that basic multiple mbox structure that programs like Elm and Pine would ultimately build on top of. MH [] that appears to be from around 1979 also handles multiple mail folders.

            So no, the guy didn't invent bcc or multiple mail folders either. He didn't invent the first GUI mail system, which was probably Xerox's Laurel.

            The guy is a liar.

          • His bit about "to, from and BCC" in this Boston article is completely bogus. Just see RFC 680 [] (from 1975) and notice that all of them were completely specified.

      • by quenda ( 644621 )

        But there is no evidence that he invented the concept of electronic messages between people.

        I think some guy called Samuel Morse might have a prior claim on this one.

    • by Nethead ( 1563 )

      Is that how he got ASN [] 1?

  • by Squiddie ( 1942230 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:38PM (#39142053)
    If only the rest of the world saw it his way. If he did invent email, that is.
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:40PM (#39142079) Journal

      Which he didn't. The ancestor of the mail systems used on the Internet today was the mail command from the original versions of Unix, way back around 1971 or so. This guy is either a lunatic or a liar, but the one thing he isn't is the inventor of email.

    • If he did invent email, then he could not have gotten a patent, since there were no software patents when email was invented.
    • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:41PM (#39142103) Homepage Journal
      Oh yes, he sure did. In 1982. When every computer on the network already had networked mail services. Electronic mail was invented before this clown was even born. [] Let the burning at the stake proceed forthwith.
      • ...for the record, what he did appear to contribute (or at least copyright) was the word 'EMAIL', although 'electronic mail' existed as early as 1965.
        • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:17PM (#39142445) Homepage

          ...for the record, what he did appear to contribute (or at least copyright) was the word 'EMAIL', although 'electronic mail' existed as early as 1965.

          This claim in itself is fishy. You can't copyright "terms." That's not what copyright is for. Copyright is for individual works. He could have copyrighted his source code (in fact it was automatically copyrighted as soon as he wrote it), but there's no way he could claim ownership of a "term" other than by trademarking it. Some bad reporting happened somewhere along the line, here, and now it's getting regurgitated all over the Interwebs.

          • Fair point; that was lifted from the Multics article I linked. Here's the oldest trademark I could find [] for 'email' (that wasn't French for 'enamel'), which I'm afraid I'm not experienced enough in the area to interpret. Interestingly, there's one from 1982 [] that claims 'No claim is made to the exclusive right to use the word "Email", apart from the mark as shown.' That might be just about enamel, but it could also suggest that 'e-mail' was already widely used. I'm sure if we really wanted we could look it u
      • According to the parent's link, the first spam electronic mail message was sent on May 3rd, 1978.. Before Ayyadurai "invented email".. Doesn't sound like much of an invention.. Possibly Ayyadurai coined the term "email", but that's all.
    • by tysonedwards ( 969693 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:52PM (#39142215)
      From TFA: VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims is to have created the first "graphical front end for an electronic mail system", and was the first to copyright the term "EMAIL".

      It is the craziness of the mass media that translates a copyright filing as "Invention".
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

        From TFA: VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims is to have created the first "graphical front end for an electronic mail system",

        Which is still wrong. Even the piece about the "To:" and the use of user'@'host which existed in RFC469 around 74, reaffirmed in RFC498, and the Mail Transfer Protocol RFC772 dated 1980 which kicked off the the modern internet version of SMTP, none of which include VA Shiva's name, btw. I suppose all the programs that were running at that time that generated the need for those RFCs had no "graphical front end" for the electronic mail that they were serving?

        and was the first to copyright the term "EMAIL". It is the craziness of the mass media that translates a copyright filing as "Invention".

        Now that one I can believe, but whether it's a leg

      • by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:17PM (#39142447) Journal

        The first GUI email claim seems a little questionable to me. The Xerox Alto (1973) had a GUI, WYSIWYG, mice, ethernet, and email (Laurel and Hardy). I can't find a date reference for Laurel and Hardy, but Steve Jobs visited them in December of 1979 and later said:

        And they showed me really three things. But I was so blinded by the first one I didn't even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object orienting programming they showed me that but I didn't even see that. The other one they showed me was a networked computer system...they had over a hundred Alto computers all networked using email etc., etc., I didn't even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life. Now remember it was very flawed, what we saw was incomplete, they'd done a bunch of things wrong. But we didn't know that at the time but still though they had the germ of the idea was there and they'd done it very well and within you know ten minutes it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this some day.

      • by wurp ( 51446 )

        A single word is not copyrightable. It's possible he was the first to *trademark* the term, though.

        • According to the legal definition, a single general term is not copyrightable, however a non-generic term is.

          Copyright Registration Number: TXu000111775 - EMAIL []
          • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

            According to the legal definition, a single general term is not copyrightable, however a non-generic term is.

            That's not true. You can't copyright any single term, just like you can't copyright the title of a book.

            Read the text of that claim you cite. The work's title is "EMAIL." The actual work being submitted is the text of a computer printout, i.e. the source code of his email program.

    • by PatPending ( 953482 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:10PM (#39142393)

      His name is on three separate patents; are these "software patents?" (Presumably he has had a change of mind.)

      6,718,368 System and method for content-sensitive automatic reply message generation for text-based asynchronous communications

      6,718,367 Filter for modeling system and method for handling and routing of text-based asynchronous communications

      6,668,281 Relationship management system and method using asynchronous electronic messaging

      Source: []>

  • Patents... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:40PM (#39142077) Homepage Journal

    I'd love to test our Social Networking application we ran in college, long before this interweb thing came along, against some of the patents people are claiming now.

    As for email, I've got junk from my Dad's Model 14 Teletype, with headers and all, which could certainly pass for early email. Back then it was passed between stations until intended recipient was expected to have received it - your TTY was always expected to be left on.

  • Uh, 1980? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by leighklotz ( 192300 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:42PM (#39142107) Homepage

    When I got to MIT in 1979 email had been in use for a long time. Both " at " and "@" were in equal use on ITS to send mail over ARPAnet via NCP. I'm not sure what this guy is claiming about having invented email in 1980.

  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:42PM (#39142113) Homepage

    I think the invention of the Teleprinter and the Fax machine soon after got him beat. Modern e-mail requires IP based servers and DNS.

    • Booooring. I so invented Token-Ring and RIP way before all your silly email preponderances.
    • Any time you have a multi-user system the need for e-mail arises naturally and just about every multi-user system in the world had it. Before ARPAnet or Internet or DNS.

  • Email is one of those things that becomes obvious once the tech comes into existence. Give someone a computer with the option of sending data back and forth and a whole slew of people will say "Send this Memo to EVERYONE" and thus Spam was born.
  • This is silly. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:47PM (#39142169)
    What is email? It isn't a protocol - you can send it over many, many protocols. It is a concept: The very idea of sending a text message by electronic means to be stored somewhere the recipient may access it for a non-realtime conversation. What is that, really? It's the telegraph. Computers made it much faster, cheaper and more accessible, but the real core of the idea is as old as the telegraph.
    • Re:This is silly. (Score:4, Informative)

      by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:04PM (#39142341) Journal

      Quite right. There are a number of different formats. But the most widely used one is based on RFC561 all the way back in 1973 (though I imagine it only formalized what guys like Ray Tomlinson had already been doing for a couple of years). Both UUCP and SMTP were built specifically with this basic format in mind, since by the time they were developed, it had been in use for years.

  • Unix Version 6, released in 1975, had the mail command.

    • The mail command dates back to v1. And the earliest RFC (561) stating the structure of ARPANET mail messages dates back to 1973. That's talking about direct ancestors of modern mail systems based on RFC 822. But just about any modern email program would be able to open up an RFC 561 formatted message and display it correctly.

  • More details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:54PM (#39142229) []

    1) He did not invent it.
    2) He did copyright the term "EMAIL" in 1982.
    3) But he doesn't believe in software patents.

    Now he is trying to twist his "copyright on "EMAIL"" into "Invention of EMAIL" with nothing more than his own words.

    Wake me up when Dennis Ritchie returns to whoop his undeserving ass...

    • 2) He did copyright the term "EMAIL" in 1982. .

      What does that mean? How do you "copyright" a single word? I could understand if he applied for a trademark on the word "EMAIL", but I don't understand the claim of "copyrighting" the word "EMAIL". Does that mean using the word "EMAIL" is copyright infringement?

      • And how did he copyright it? Register it? Send himself registered mail with the word "email" in the envelope. I think he's a liar from top to bottom. ARPANet email had been around for over a decade by the time of this alleged copyrighting, and older email systems had been around several years before the Unix V1 mail command.

      • Re:More details (Score:5, Informative)

        by almitydave ( 2452422 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:38PM (#39142625)

        According to the Wikipedia article linked above, he copyrighted his email program which was called "EMAIL". So the copyright is on the software, not the term, which as numerous people here have mentioned is not eligible for copyright.

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      I did some digging. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, you can't "copyright a term."

      Here's his actual claim. [] What he did was register the copyright on his software. The title of his software is "EMAIL." That doesn't give him any kind of rights to the term, and it is not proof that he was the first one to use the term, either. There could have been a thousand software systems that called themselves that -- there just isn't a government record to prove it. Either A.) they didn't register their copyrights w

  • AUTODIN (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nsaspook ( 20301 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:00PM (#39142293) Homepage [] []

    I managed a few Technical Control sites long ago. We could route normal telegrams on the system with a little creative address routing.

  • CTSS 1965, Multics (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "CTSS had mail and inter-user messaging in 1965. These facilities were useful in the initial construction of Multics. Multics provided mail and inter-user messaging between users on the same system as early as 1968. Extending mail on a single system to mail across the network was a development effort started in the early 70s that continued into the 1990s.

    THVV wrote the first mail command for 645 Multics in 1968, imitating the CTSS MAIL command. "


    See 3.3.2

  • Good grief - looks to me like somebody trying to re-write history.
    Look at: []
    Got his own web site pumping himself.

    Then: []
    A wiki page that many have said needs to be deleted.
    I wonder who wrote that little work?

    Maybe Big Brother can get him a job
    working for the Thought Police!

    • What I can't figure out is how the piece of shit thought he wouldn't be outed? If he's so fucking smart, he must surely have realized that all the information showing him to be a conman can be found in about five minutes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elo_sf ( 838722 )
        He seems to be using a variant of the "big lie" wrapping some pieces of truth in the bigger lie. He does appear to have a valid copyright registration for a computer program entitled "EMAIL." from 1982. He's then taking advantage of the mainstream press' unfamiliarity with copyrights vs trademarks vs patents AND their unfamiliarity with software technology--or even willingness to read something as basic as the wikipedia entry for email to realize that 1982 was late to the party and at best the guy did deve
  • When the hell did Time and the Washington Post become "august" [] pubs???
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:10PM (#39142879) Journal

    This NYTArticle [] from April 28, 1957 says:

    Mail Sped by Electronics Predicted by Summerfield; One-Day Delivery Sought Between Any 2 Cities --Many 'Ifs' in Plan ELECTRONIC MAIL SEEN IN A DECADE Senate to Study Bill Full Report Planned 'Pattern' for Country Fire From Two Sides Question of 'Intangibles'

    WASHINGTON, April 27--The Post Office Department envisions a five-to-ten-year transition to the electronic age...

  • Say, isn't this the same guy who "invented" RFC 1149 []?
  • Shiva Ayyadurai (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rlk ( 1089 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:14PM (#39142907)

    As it happens, I actually knew Shiva in high school (I was one year behind him in Livingston -- class of 1982; he was class of 1981). We lived about 1/4 mile apart, and took the same bus to and from school. We were both science/math geeks.

    I do remember (not the details) the project he's talking about. We discussed it on the bus. He did indeed submit it to the Westinghouse Talent Search, and as I recall he got past the first round. It certainly was an interesting project for the time, and my recollection is that he designed it very well and he well deserved to advance. I don't know one way or the other whether he came up with it independently, but he most certainly didn't invent email.

    It has been well over a decade since I last saw him.

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:19PM (#39142935)

    As he says on his Web site [], he's the "inventor of EMAIL".

    He does not, however, say he's the inventor of email or e-mail or electronic mail, so I guess he means he's the inventor of a system named "EMAIL". the copyright he got was for a "COMPUTER PROGRAM FOR Electronic Mail System", which suggests that "EMAIL" was a program that implemented, err, umm, email. []

    He als says "Every software system needs a User's Manual, so did the world's first E-MAIL system. At that time, Shiva was everything on the project: software engineer, network manager, project manager, architect, quality assurance AND technical writer.", so maybe "the world's first E-MAIL system" was the first system that "handled it all" - ARPANET e-mail involved different mail user agents and mail transfer agents on different operating systems, so there wasn't a single "COMPUTER PROGRAM FOR Electronic Mail System".

    Or not. A historical overview of the CTSS system, from its fiftieth anniversary [], quotes Tom Van Vleck (also cited in another posting []):

    Electronic Mail. Noel Morris and I wrote a command, suggested by Glenda Schroeder and Louis Pouzin, called MAIL, which allowed users to send text messages to each other; this was one of the earliest electronic mail facilities.[11] (I am told that the Q-32 system also had a MAIL command in 1965.)

    Reference 11 is to Van Vleck's The History of Electronic Mail [] (which mentions the copyrighting of "EMAIL" in a parenthetical note at the top of the page) and Errol Morris's New York Times Opinionator blog post "Did My Brother Invent E-Mail With Tom Van Vleck?" (my head asplode when I learned that Errol Morris was Noel Morris' brother). []

    The news article he cites [] says he "created an electronic mail system", which may well be the case. It doesn't say he created the first electronic mail system, and "created an electronic mail system" suggests that the notion of an "electronic mail system" wasn't a Shiny New Idea (and, in fact, it wasn't).

    And, in fact, the article to which the "to defend his standing as email's creator" link takes you [] quotes him as saying "I did not claim that I created electronic communications," so at least give him credit for that.

    • If you could send missives over a computer network, and another person could read them at some point in the future, that's email. This fellow is implying he invented THAT functionality. That is classical email.

      The correct claim, it seems, is that he created one of the early email-management programs.

      The use of all caps versus mixed case only usually matters to compilers. In written English, EMAIL versus email contains no difference in conveyed information. Unless one is an acronym and no one is making that

  • I first used an email like system in 1980 on an IBM mainframe. I was referred to as mail, but not "email". I think at best he might be able to say he was the first to coin the silly term "email". I see no more reason to use the "e" as we don't refer to the network as "electronic". No doubt others might already be using words like "iMail" (Steve, is that you?) or "cmail" or "nmail".

    Who cares, though. It all became worthless as soon as spam (all lower case) was invented a few days afterwards.

  • As someone else pointed out: was the telegraph really the first email? How closely does a system need to resemble what we currently know as "email" in order for it to really be "email"? If we were to identify the inventor of "modern" email, would that be Postel in 1982 with the RFC for SMTP (proposed in 1980), or someone earlier?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:50PM (#39143591) Homepage

    The real beginning of email, in the sense of fully automatic message switching, was "Western Union Plan 55-A" [], introduced in 1948 and shut down in 1976. Imagine Sendmail, with paper tape punches and readers with bins between them as the buffers. Such systems handled most telegrams in the US for over 25 years.

    There were message switching systems before that, but Plan 55-A was the first one that could forward a message from source to destination without human intervention at the switching points. It could even handle messages with multiple destination addresses.

    Before that, there were teletypewriter exchanges, but they involved dialing up a connection directly between sender and receiver. They were basically telephone switches repurposed for teletypes. That's what TWX and Telex were. Those were automatic dial back to the early 1930s.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.