Court sets date for BT hyperlink trial

A date has been set for the lawsuit brought by British Telecom against Prodigy Communications for alleged patent infringement...

A date has been set for the lawsuit brought by British Telecom against Prodigy Communications for alleged patent infringement through the US ISP's use of hyperlinks in Web sites

Last year, BT said it discovered that it holds US patent 4,873,662 for the invention of hyperlink technology used on the Internet. The company filed a lawsuit against Prodigy in a US federal court on 13 December 2000.

Hyperlinks allow users to click on a highlighted object on a Web page, in order to bring up an associated item contained elsewhere on the Internet.

In the latest pre-trial hearing for the case, a court date was set for 11 February 2002, with Judge Mark Fox presiding.

BT and Prodigy could not be reached for comment, although BT has in the past declined to discuss the details of the case except to say that it is seeking "appropriate reparations" from Prodigy.

Early in 2000, BT wrote to 17 US ISPs, including Prodigy, asking them to pay for the privilege of using the technology through licensing agreements.

The lawsuit filed against Prodigy - which claims to be the largest consumer digital subscriber line ISP in the US, as well as the country's first commercial ISP - is the first lawsuit BT has filed to protect the hyperlink patent.

BT owns what it calls the Hidden Page patent, which was filed in the US in 1976. The patent was granted in 1989 and expires in 2006, which BT claims gives it the intellectual property rights to hyperlink technology.

BT hired the UK-based technology development and licensing company, Scipher, last year to broker licensing agreements with the US ISPs. The company said it would not pursue patent claims with individual users, as it would "not be practical".

Tim Berners-Lee is generally credited as leading an effort in the late 1980s to write the underlying protocols - including HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol - for what later came to be known as the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee's work was based on, among other things, earlier work carried out by Ted Nelson, who is generally acknowledged to have coined the term hypertext in his 1965 book, Literary Machines.

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