This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

British Telecom: We Own the Hyperlink
Jun 21 2000 12:00 AM PDT

BT, a company hardly revered in Britain for either technological savvy or consumer friendliness, is about to make new enemies on this side of the pond. BT owns a U.S. patent that it claims covers the technology of the hyperlink, one of the building blocks of the Web.

The company has been sending letters to American ISPs for weeks, according to the Financial Times. Some outlets reported that 17 ISPs had received letters; the BBC said simply "lots." Bloomberg reported that AOL (dossier) was one of the ISPs tapped. The Wall Street Journal and Wired cited Earthlink. Apparently no one got a look at one of the ISP letters, because the reporting on what exactly BT is asking for was largely guesswork informed by lawyerly speculation.

Most outlets talked to BT spokesmen and to one or two law firms, and reported the story without much editorializing. Wired and Salon added liberal doses of analysis. Salon in particular laid out the case for the "prior art" that ISPs could use to fight the BT patent - published work stretching back from Ted Nelson (widely credited with coining the term "hypertext") to Douglas Engelbart to Vannevar Bush in the 1940s.

Wired linked to the text of the patent in question on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site. From that link, reporter Craig Bicknell cited the patent's filing date as 1980. Most everyone else said 1976, possibly relying on the BT press release. (The U.S. patent was issued in 1989 and will expire in 2006.) Wired also linked to the Slashdot discussion of BT's move and seemed to partake of that open-source haven's scorn for overly broad patents. - Keith Dawson

BT Owns Key Web Patent
Financial Times

British Firm Claims Hyperlink Patent (Bloomberg)
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BT Claims Patent on Web Links
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British Telecom Seeks License Fees From a U.S. Patent for Hyperlinks
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BT Claims a Patent on Hyperlinks

'As We May Think,' by Vannevar Bush (1945)
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