From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 26 Feb 02 - Pay Per Click?
Can you patent a click? British Telecom hopes so. In fact, they'd like the cash register to ring every time you click on a web link. Incredible as it sounds, London-based British Telecom claimed in a US federal court a few days ago that they own the patent on hyperlinks. BT is suing Internet Service Providers (ISPs), hoping to extract a licensing fee that would ultimately result in higher costs for consumers.
BT's case is based on their hyperlink patent, which was issued in the US in 1989. But patent experts predict that BT will not prevail. Computer scientists and web users around the world have been busy digging up "prior art", or proof that hyperlink technology was described as early as the 1930's and clearly in use before the BT patent was issued.
Some have traced the idea of hypertext back to Vannevar Bush, an MIT professor in the 1930s. Others cite British scientist Ted Nelson, who coined the word "hypertext" in his 1965 book "Literary Machine". But perhaps the best proof that hypertext linking was in use before 1989 is film footage from 1968 showing Stanford computer researcher Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse) demonstrating his NLS system in which clicking on certain words causes a new page of text to appear.
This 90-minute public multimedia demonstration was the world debut of the computer mouse, hyperlinking, multiple windows with flexible view control, and on-screen video teleconferencing. It's interesting to note that Englebart mentions in this film that he's aware of the planned ARPANET computer network, which was the forerunner of the Internet. A year later, Engelbart's computer became one of the first two computers connected to ARPANET.
But I digress... Even the judge at the hearing warned that it may be difficult for BT to prove that their 25-year-old patent, filed more than a decade before the Web's invention, somehow applies today. "The language is archaic," Judge Colleen McMahon said. She suggested that comparing the 1976 computer described in the patent to today's desktop PCs was like comparing a dinosaur to a jet plane, and that the invention at issue "was already outmoded" by the time it was patented in the US in 1989.
Attorneys for British Telecom resorted to Clintonesque tactics, such as arguing over the meaning of words like "central" and tried to persuade the judge that a computer mouse could be construed as the "keypad" mentioned in the patent. "It has keys," BT lawyer Robert Perry said.
The judge's decision is expected in about a month. But I think that British Telecom is in a lose-lose situation. Most likely they will be handed an embarassing legal defeat. But even if they score a partial victory, the court of public opinion will find them guilty of an ugly money grubbing contrivance.
The Bustpatents website has an archive of bad software/Internet patents, and some background information about why the US Patent Office issues so many dubious technology patents.
BountyQuest is a site that pays people for doing the research to find prior art that will invalidate patent claims.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office
In Europe, it is the European Patent Office
That's all for now. I'll see you next time! --Bob Rankin