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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 16:59 GMT
BT goes to law over hyperlink patent
Red telephone box BT
Critics doubt whether BT will be successful
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

BT is going to court to enforce its claim to have invented the hyperlinks that bind the internet together.

This week, it filed a lawsuit in a New York court seeking damages from a US internet service provider over its use of hyperlink technology.

Earlier this year, BT claimed to have invented hyperlinks - the technology that lets people jump from webpage to webpage with the click of a mouse.

BT says the lawsuit could be the first of many as it seeks to win fees from those using its intellectual property.

Legal link

In June this year, telecommunications giant BT announced that a trawl through its archives had unearthed a patent application that, it claimed, gave it intellectual property rights over hyperlinks.

The patent application was made in 1976 by Post Office researchers who were developing the Prestel and Viewdata text-based information services. Researcher Desmond Sargent was the man credited with making the advance. The US Patent Office granted patent number 4873662 in 1989.

Following the announcement, BT started discussions with US net service companies with a view to extracting payments for use of its intellectual property.

It is only pursuing US companies because it only had a patent granted on the technology in that country.

Licence fees

Now, after talks with a net company called Prodigy have broken down, BT has filed a lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount of damages. Prodigy is one of the bigger net companies in the US and has about 2.4 million customers.

A spokeswoman for BT said it did not know how long it would take for the court case to be settled but was expecting it to take a long time.

She did not rule out legal action against other companies if discussions with them proved fruitless. BT has yet to receive a penny in licence fees.

Many industry historians poured scorn on BT when it made its announcement pointing out that hypertext and hyperlinks were developed by US computer scientist Ted Nelson long before BT thought them up. Tim Berners-Lee, the man widely credited as the driving force behind the World Wide Web, says Mr Nelson was a key influence.

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