Back in June, 2000, the company then known as British Telecom exhumed an
old patent that, it claimed, covered the hyperlinking used in the World
Wide Web - at least, in the United States. Seeing a potential gold mine,
the company sent its lawyer squads off to the U.S. to shake down ISPs, all
of which, it claimed, were violating this hyperlink patent. Prodigy got
the dubious honor of being the first company to be targeted with an
Prodigy, happily, did not choose the "pay them off and hope they go away"
response; instead, the company fought the claim in court. And, on
August 22, the company was vindicated: U.S. federal Judge Colleen
McMahon dismissed the suit outright, ruling that there is no way that a
jury could find that infringement had taken place. The company now known
as BT has the right to appeal the ruling, but, one way or another, BT looks
unlikely to prevail. We can continue to make links without writing checks
This result is a victory for the Web, but it is a limited victory. The
judge has simply determined that this patent, filed in 1980, does not cover
the technologies used on the web. Had the patent been written differently,
the result could easily have been different. Other patents with claims on
fundamental technologies will certainly surface in the coming years, and
they will not all be so easily disposed of.
(See also: the
text of the judgement, in PDF format).
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