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BT loses hyperlink ownership claim

A US federal judge has thrown out a claim by British Telecom (BT) that Prodigy Communications violated a patent on hyperlinking, the technology that connects data on the Web via highlighted object links.

Judge Colleen McMahon of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a summary judgment yesterday (22 August) in Prodigy's favour saying the company did not violate a patent that BT claims for hyperlink technology. The decision follows a previous order from McMahon that limited how BT could present and defend its claims on the patent. A summary judgment is a ruling in which a judge decides there are no factual issues that remain to be tried in a case and so parts of the case, or the entire complaint, can be decided without a trial. It can be appealed against.

BT claimed that its Sargent patent, US patent number 4,873,662, filed in the US in 1976 and granted in 1989, provided the company with the rights to hyperlinking.

"I find that as a matter of law, no jury could find that Prodigy infringes the Sargent patent, nor that Prodigy contributes to infringement of the Sargent patent, nor actively induces others to infringe that patent," McMahon wrote yesterday. "I therefore grant Prodigy's motion for summary judgment."

Prodigy, now a subsidiary of SBC Communications, has said it was the first commercial ISP in the USA and that this status made it the target for BT's suit. "At this point, we trust that this will put to rest the claims that have been made," said an SBC spokesman. No one from BT was available for comment.

BT first filed suit in a federal court in New York in regard to the alleged patent infringement. The company said the patent stemmed from research by an employee of the UK General Post Office in the 1970s into text-based information systems. The GPO was divided into BT and the Post Office in 1981.

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