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BT challenged over hyperlink patent

Oct 02, 2000, 21:54 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Leyden)

By John Leyden, VNU Net

BT's attempt to enforce a patent on internet hyperlinks has been thrown into fresh doubt by video footage of a 1968 research project.

The telco wanted US internet service providers to pay for their customers' rights to use hyperlinks in websites, the element of a web page a user clicks on to access another page or site.

However, the US-based Internet Patent News Service has discovered a website that hosts a film said to contain a demonstration of the hyperlink technology which pre-dates BT's claim by eight years.

The film involves a 90-minute presentation in 1968 by Douglas Englebart, of the Stanford Research Institute, that demonstrates the first mouse, and other innovations such as hyperlinks, which were to be elements of an online system he was working on.

The presentation occurred during a computer convention held in San Francisco, which was attended by about 1000 computer professionals, and can be seen online at http://sloan.stanford.edu/MouseSite/1968Demo.html

But BT said the patent dates back to the days of its Viewdata online services, including Prestel. The company said it applied for the patent with the US Patent Office in 1976, but didn't receive it until 1989.

The telco now wants money from organisations using hyperlinks until the patent expires in 2006. Its patents on hyperlinks in other countries have already expired.

A BT spokesman said that it was in the process of contacting US internet service providers to discuss licensing fees. "We're only asking to get what is rightfully ours," he said, adding that the process would continue through this month and November.

BT has hired intellectual property licensing firm QED, part of UK technology licensing company Scipher, to recover the unpaid fees arising from the many websites that use hyperlinks.

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