Judge Says Nobody Owns Buddy Lists

America Online Inc. has suffered a mild defeat in the middle of its highly publicized squabble with Microsoft Corp. over instant messaging.

A U.S. District Court judge Friday threw out a lawsuit AOL filed last year against AT&T for allegedly infringing on its intellectual property.

In the suit, AOL claimed that AT&T was illegally using the terms “Buddy List,” “Instant Messaging” and “You’ve Got Mail” in AT&T’s instant messaging service.

The original lawsuit was filed in December 1998. In January, AOL was denied a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against AT&T to prohibit their use of the trade marked messaging services. In April, AT&T lawyers asked for a summary judgment, whereby a judge makes a decision based on the facts of the case, without a full trial.

Paul Cappuccio, AOL senior vice president and general counsel, said the public recognizes the familiar instant messaging terms as AOL properties and the Internet service provider is confident Friday’s ruling will be reversed.

“Buddy List is a federally registered trademark, synonymous in the public’s mind with AOL and the AOL experience. Everybody knows Buddy List, You Have Mail and IM are unique to AOL,” Cappuccio said.

“We believe that the court’s decision incorrectly interprets well-established foundations of trademark law, and we are appealing it. AOL and AT&T have both recognized that these issues ultimately would have to be resolved by the Court of Appeals, regardless of who prevailed in the District Court. We are confident that the ruling will be reversed.”

In recent weeks AOL has threatened legal action against Microsoft for creating software that lets users talk to their friends who use AOL’s instant-messaging products. But as the call for an industry standard was raised, AOL continues to only permit access to their instant messaging servers when formal agreements have been struck.

Buddy Lists is the moniker for an AOL service that provides real-time chat between two or more persons who are simultaneously using the AOL Service. Using this service, members can also learn when pre-selected users are online and available for real-time chat. AOL has been providing this one-to-one real-time chat service continuously since early 1997.

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