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RealTime IT News

BT Loses Hyperlink Case

District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled Friday against British Telecommunication's claim it had developed and patented what is today known as the hyperlink, saying Prodigy is not liable for retroactive licensing fees for using the service.

Prodigy, a dial up Internet service provider based out of Texas, was a test case for the U.K. telecom giant, to see whether a patent it had filed with the U.S. Patent Office could stand up in a court of law.

BT wants every ISP in the U.S. to pay for every hyperlink on every U.S. Website, saying the technology is its intellectual property and subject to retroactive licensing fees. America is the only county in the world where this particular patent hasn't expired.

Larry Meyer, a spokesperson with SBC Communications (which owns the Prodigy service), said the company was pleased with the judge's summary judgment.

"(McMahon) has validated our position that these claims are without merit," he said. "We trust this will put to rest these frivolous claims."

A BT spokesperson was unavailable for comment at press time, but according to the BBC, the carrier is still reading over the 27-page ruling and will likely make a decision afterwards. Meyer said it's "technically" possible for BT to appeal, but wouldn't comment on the likelihood of an appeal.

Like Al Gore, self-described "inventor of the Internet" and former U.S. vice president, the facts quickly asserted themselves in a case over ownership of what's considered a fundamental and universal Internet techology.

Gore actually created a lot of impetus with Congress to fund Internet projects in the 1980's and 1990's, but taking "the initiative in creating the Internet," as he originally said was a little over-reaching (especially since the roots of the Internet can be traced back to 1960's and beyond).

Likewise, BT's lawsuit was based on a patent filed in 1989, though Prodigy lawyers were able to get testimony from a Stanford professor, who had tested and demonstrated the theory of hyperlinking years prior.

The judge had a problem with the wording in the patent, which didn't give BT lawyers much hope from from the beginning. It states a hyperlink can be utilized "by the operation of a selected key of the keyboard," Internet Web browsers today use a mouse to click to the next page, for the most part, damaging BT's claim the patent was relevant to today's technology.

Also, the network architecture described in the patent followed a server/terminal methodology, while the Internet can best described as a hodgepodge network of interconnected computers.