BT's hyperlink invention claim rejected in court

British Telecom, who earlier this year went to court in the U.S over claims that it had the rights to the use of the 'hyperlink', has suffered an embarassing defeat.

The telecoms giant had claimed that it held the U.S patent to this most fundamental element of surfing, and had it won this initial case against Prodigy Communications, it could have charged all U.S-based ISP's a fee each time a user clicks on a link.

The opponents of BT's claim, of which there are many, point to a number of historical examples which show that research into hyperlink technology was taking place years before BT started taking an interest.

Judge McMahon, of the New York Federal Court, took to pieces BT's assertion that Prodigy had infringed the 26-year old "Sargent patent", which outlines a system in which multiple users at separate terminals can access information from a 'central computer' via the phone.

BT had claimed that each server on the Internet constituted a 'central computer' as defined in the Sargent patent, but the judge in this case siad that the "purpose of the Internet is for the sources of information to be in many places rather than centralised".

As part of its defence, Prodigy Communications produced a grainy black and white 1968 video by Stanford computer researcher Douglas Engelbart apparently demonstrating a very primitive example of "hypertext linking", eight years before BT lodged its patent in the US. Commentators following the case also point to the findings of Ted Nelson, who coined the term "hypertext" back in 1963.

Unsurprisingly, BT has expressed its "disappointment" at the 27 page ruling, having already lost many industry friends this yhear over its apparent attempts to hold the Internet industry to ransom.

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