British Telecommunications may believe it owns the rights to the hyperlink technology that connects billions of pages all over the Internet, but other Net heavyweights think it should be working for the Internet rather than trying to up its own profits.
In a harshly worded statement, Andy Mitchell MD of AltaVista UK and Ireland told ZDNet News: "BT should focus on innovation and creativity rather than [focusing on] profits over social responsibility. Such exploitation, if allowed, could result in thousands of lawsuits against the company for broken hyperlinks and other such claims. There are betters ways of seeking glory."
BT was reluctant to respond to Mitchell's damning remarks, but a spokesman eventually admitted "We're expecting a spirited dispute over this, but intellectual property is a real commercial property that [American] ISPs are using... We expect those ISPs to do the decent thing and talk to us about licences."
But decency is something BT needs tuition on according to senior IDC analyst James Eibisch. "Decency? BT is far from being decent about this... Keeping intellectual property like this out of the control of a single owner is important and I wonder whether the concept of hyperlinks is too broad and too generic a concept [for BT to resist challenges to the patent claim]."
"This is only a day old and it's a laughing stock already. It's very damaging to BT. It's just very bad PR..."
The EuroLinux consortium was also quick to damn BT's plans, arguing that software patenting stifles creativity and competition and is especially harmful to new companies and independent programmers.
"Recent rulings at the European Patent Office show that it is already possible to get patents for services, human actions, intellectual methods, etc. The time has come to take control of the European Patent System out of the hands of patent experts and back into the hands of the general interest," comments Jean-Paul Smets, of the EuroLinux Alliance.
Despite the criticism, and following a well trodden path of defensive strategies it has relied on during the unmetered campaigns, BT answers its growing ranks of critics by staking its claim on the commercial realities of the 21st Century.
"This is not some nebulous ideal, there are very real commercial reasons for doing this... This claim has been very extensively examined. We do have this patent and if people subsequently want to dispute the relevance of it, that s a separate debate. I don't want to use threats, but there are well established means of resolving these issues."
ZDNet will continue to bring you coverage on the developments surrounding this issue as they happen.
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