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BT on hyperlinks: Show me the money

BT puts its mouth where it thinks the money is by going into 'negotiations' with US ISPs who dare to use (supposedly) BT-patented hyperlink technology
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

A day after it was announced that British Telecommunications (BT) would pursue its claim of ownership over the Internet's hyperlink technology, ZDNet has been inundated with mail questioning the telco's motives. According to its press office however, there is no secret behind BT's motives, it just wants the money.

BT is now in the middle of "negotiations" with American ISPs who face a charge for using hyperlinks, according to a spokesman. Asked if by negotiations he meant those ISPs had agreed that the telco owned the rights to hyperlinks and were now quibbling about the actual cost, the spokesman conceded that "we are in the early stages".

The patent, number 4,873,662, was issued to BT in America in 1989 and expires in 2006.

Asked why BT was pursuing the hyperlink patent, the spokesman says: "Many ISPs and companies make a huge sum of money for intellectual property on the Net. We feel that we are entitled to make money on our intellectual property too. That's the reality of the Internet now, it's a commercial property."

Observers argue that BT may well be in 'discussions' with American ISPs, but dreams of negotiations will come later. Much later.

"The American ISPs are bound to dig in and will challenge the patent," according to Robin Bynoe, partner in London law firm Charles Russell. "There are lots of potential dissidents in this case and because of the American culture, they are unlikely to agree with BT's claim without first going to the courts." According to Bynoe, legal proceedings in the US could take years.

BT admits the patent claim is "an emotive issue" but insists it has sought professional advice and believes its claim is fair. "We're not trying to stop anyone from using the Internet, far from it," the spokesman says. "We want to settle this quickly and with the money we make, we will re-invest in our R&D and the network."

Tony Westbrook thinks BT's claim to hyperlinks is 100 percent, copper bottomed nonsense. Nonetheless this is certainly a perfect story for the early summer silly season. Maybe that's why BT has done it. It certainly couldn't be for any sane commercial or PR reason could it? Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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