BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
BT claims patent on web links
link page
Links between webpages might belong to BT
By BBC News Online internet reporter
Mark Ward

UK firm BT is claiming ownership of a key part of the internet.

The telecommunications giant says it came up with idea for hyperlinks that turn separate pages of information into an interconnected whole.

Clicking on a hyperlink whisks you from one webpage to another.

BT says a patent filed in the US in 1976 and granted in 1989 gives it ownership of hyperlink technology

Link licence

Now, it is asking US internet service providers to pay to use what it considers to be its intellectual property.

If the claim is successful, BT stands to make millions from the licence agreements.

Tim Berners-Lee
Berners-Lee: The scientist is usually credited as the inventor of the world wide web
Currently, there are around 1.5bn pages on the web. Each one has, on average, 52 links on it.

BT filed patents on the hyperlink idea in other countries but these claims have now expired.

However, the US patent runs out in 2006.

Ben Goodger, a technology and intellectual property expert from law firm Willoughby and Partners, said BT would be unwise to try and enforce its claim.

"The commercial damage and unpopularity which BT would bring on its head if it tried to enforce this patent would be incalculable," he said.

Mr Goodger said in the 1980s Unisys tried to enforce its claim to a technology which was widely used to compress image files.

He said Unisys was vilified for its action at the time especially when it started charging $5000 per licence.

Now over 2000 companies have paid Unisys for a licence to use the compression system known as the LZW algorithm.

Post Office pioneer

BT rediscovered the Hidden Page patent three years ago during a routine trawl of its 15,000 patents.

The growing popularity of the internet has spurred it to capitalise on the patent.

"It is only now that the world wide web has become commercially significant," said a BT spokesman.

He added that BT has spent the time preparing its licensing programme for companies that want to use hyperlinks.

"It takes a long time to prepare a licensing programme of this magnitude," said the spokesman.

Now, it has employed intellectual property experts Scipher, formerly the Thorn-EMI research lab, to pursue those using hyperlinks.

So far, BT and Scipher have sent letters to lots of US internet service providers - it is not planning to ask individual users to pay to use the web.

BT is now talking to the ISPs about licensing agreements. It declined to divulge how much a licence to use the hyperlink technology would cost.

The original patent was filed after work done on text based information systems such as Prestel by the General Post Office (GPO).

The GPO was split into BT and the Post Office in 1981.

Just as hyperlinks now let people navigate around the internet, this early work helped users retrieve information from computers they were indirectly connected to.

Despite BT's claims to the contrary, Tim Berners-Lee is usually credited with inventing the global hypertext system that became the world wide web.

Mr Berners-Lee says that in creating the WWW he drew on the work of computing pioneer Ted Nelson - who is widely regarded as the father of hypertext.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

real 14k
Power players
Internet guru Tim Berners Lee discusses the Web

See also:

25 Oct 99 | The Economy case may open floodgates
01 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
The wonder of the Web
14 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Web links that stick
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories