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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 17:07 GMT
AOL wins instant messaging case
AOL Instant Messaging graphic
AOL has added new patent to its armoury
AOL has been granted a patent on instant messaging systems which means it could potentially sue rivals Microsoft and Yahoo.

Instant messaging has become a popular way of chatting online, allowing internet users' instant communication with their friends and colleagues.

AOL originally filed the patent for the technology, invented by its subsidiary company ICQ, in 1997.

The patent covers anything resembling a network that lets multiple instant messaging (IM) users see when other people are present and then communicate with them.

Legal action unlikely

AOL is not proven to be the type of company that fights its battles using patent litigation

Dylan Brooks, Jupiter Research
The fact it has been granted means that rivals with similar systems, most notably Microsoft and Yahoo, are potentially infringing the patent.

An AOL spokesman did not rule out the possibility of legal action in the future but said there were no immediate plans.

"We have no plans at this stage about what we will do with it. We have hundreds of patents," he said.

Jupiter Research analyst Dylan Brooks said it unlikely that AOL will take the IM battle for market share to court.

"AOL is not proven to be the type of company that fights its battles using patent litigation," he said.

"They could have stopped the march of Internet Explorer with Netscape patents but chose not to," he added.

Bitter rivalry

Instant messaging is a lucrative market, with 200 billion messages sent globally each month - 63 billion of these come from AOL software.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft have gained market share in recent years and there is also a greater demand for secure instant messaging service for businesses.

Interestingly the original inventor of IM, ICQ, has fallen off the map in terms of usage, largely due to the fact it does not have the distribution power of Microsoft and Yahoo.

There has been a bitter row between AOL and its rivals over opening up the systems so that they can all work together.

It is in this area that Mr Brooks can see AOL using its new-found patent power.

"It could come into play as part of ongoing efforts to prevent interoperability," he said.

New standards are expected to be worked out to allow people to send and receive IMs from and to their mobile phones.

See also:

04 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
22 Oct 01 | Entertainment
09 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
18 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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