15 March 2002 British Telecom (BT) has been rebuffed in its attempt to assert intellectual property ownership over Web hyperlink technology.
In a preliminary ruling in its test case against Internet service provider (ISP) Prodigy, the presiding judge suggested that BT’s 1989 “hidden page” patent would not cover hyperlinking. The patent had been granted in the US in 1989 and runs out in 2006.
BT has so far declined to comment and Prodigy is now seeking to have the case dismissed altogether.
The preliminary ruling was delivered in a document intended to sum up the technical arguments of both sides. US law demands that both sides define in clear English the terminology in the patent claim and how it applies to future inventions before the case can be heard in front of a jury.
Judge Colleen McMahon said that she doubted the relevance of the patent – first filed in 1976 – to the Internet. “As has often been the case, BT’s construction does not completely represent the claimed function, while Prodigy’s proposal is overly-complicated,” said the judge in her ruling.
Unless Prodigy’s attempt to have the case thrown out is successful – or BT’s new management decides that it is more trouble than it is worth – the full case will be heard in September 2002.
BT started its case in December 2000 after a routine spring-cleaning of patents at the company. Prodigy was selected for the test case because it is considered to be the world’s oldest ISP, having been founded in 1984.