BT is being patently 'absurd'

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The Independent Online

As if it did not have enough troubles already, BT's plan to generate billions of dollars from an old US patent found in the back of a filing cabinet could be shattered by the discovery of a 32-year-old film tape.

As if it did not have enough troubles already, BT's plan to generate billions of dollars from an old US patent found in the back of a filing cabinet could be shattered by the discovery of a 32-year-old film tape.

The embattled telecoms company is asking 19 US internet companies to pay a licence fee for the use of "hyperlinks" - the technology which allows internet users to jump to a web page by clicking on an address.

BT laid claim to hyperlinks in June after the discovery of a US patent granted to BT's former parent, the Post Office, which had filed for the patent in 1980 before BT was spun out of it. However, the US internet firms have got hold of a film made in 1968 which shows the first demonstration of the technology.

It is understood that the internet firms - including AOL, Compuserve and Yahoo!, are now planning to use the discovery to fight BT's request. One source at an internet firm said: "BT's claim to own hyperlinks is absurd, but it seems quite serious about it. We will use the video as part of our defence against this ridiculous claim."

Gregory Aharonian, of the US-based Internet Patent News Service, said: "The video will help invalidate the patent or make it harder for BT to extend its patent to the internet."

The film is of Douglas Englebart of the Stanford Research Institute addressing a convention of 1,000 technologists in San Francisco. As well as the hyperlink, he showcased the first computer mouse and search engine.

BT has hired intellectual property licensing company Scipher to peruse its claim. A source close to the company said that the patents, which run until 2006, could generate over $1bn.

A BT spokesman said: "We are aware of the footage but it hasn't been brought to our attention by any of the internet companies."

The company isn't pursuing any claims with UK internet companies because it had allowed its UK patent to lapse.

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