RealTime IT News

Federal Court Rejects AOL Request for WorldNet Restraint

Patricia Fusco
InternetNews.com Correspondent

A federal district court chief judge has rejected an attempt by America Online to block AT&T WorldNet from using several phrases commonly associated with the world's No. 1 online service.

Chief Judge Claude Hilton of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rejected AOL's court action to block AT&T from using the phrase "You Have Mail." The ruling also covers the terms "Buddy List" and "IM" currently used by the AT&T I M Here instant messaging service.

The ruling came after a Dec. 24 hearing where AOL requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Unless AOL drops its suit, the claims will be considered on the merits at a later date. AT&T said in court that AOL's claims could have significant negative implications for the entire Internet community, as well as for the open system on which it is based.

Judge Hilton rejected AOL's claim, stating that AT&T made a compelling case that the terms "You Have Mail," "IM," and "Buddy List" were likely generic. AT&T argued that AOL is attempting to assert proprietary ownership of common terms that are clearly within the public domain and in broad usage throughout the Internet.

"We're pleased that Judge Hilton has rejected this attempt by AOL to appropriate common Internet terms for its own exclusive use," said James Cicconi, AT&T's general counsel and executive vice president for law and government affairs.

"This ruling helps all ISPs, Web companies and Internet users by recognizing that the common language of the Web is not owned by AOL or anyone else." Cicconi added that AT&T realizes this is just the first round of the dispute.

AOL had filed for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Dec. 22, claiming that it had exclusive rights to the terms. With its request for emergency relief denied, AOL must now proceed with the case on a regular schedule.