BT, Prodigy U.S. hyperlink patent trial date set

A court date was set Monday in the lawsuit brought by British Telecommunications PLC (BT) against U.S.-based Prodigy Communications for patent infringement through the ISP's (Internet service provider) unauthorized use of the hyperlink.

Last year, BT said it had discovered that it holds U.S. patent 4,873,662 for the invention of hyperlink technology used on the Internet, and on Dec. 13, 2001, the London-based telecommunication company filed suit in federal court in White Plains, New York.

In the latest pretrial hearing for the case, a court date was set for Feb. 11 through Feb. 12, 2002, with Judge Mark Fox presiding, a federal court deputy said Tuesday.

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

Early in 2000, after discovering in a routine check that it owned the patent for the hyperlink, BT wrote to 17 U.S. ISPs, including Prodigy, asking them to pay for the privilege of using the technology through licensing agreements. The suit filed against Prodigy, which claims to be the largest consumer DSL (digital subscriber line) ISP in the U.S. as well as the first commercial ISP in the U.S., is the first suit BT has filed to protect its hyperlink patent.

BT owns what it calls the Hidden Page patent, which was filed in the U.S. in 1976, granted in 1989 and isn't due to expire until 2006, giving the company the intellectual property rights to hyperlink technology. Hyperlinks connect text, images, and other data on the Internet in such a way as to allow a user to click on a highlighted object on a Web page in order to bring up an associated item contained elsewhere on the Web.

Last year, BT also hired U.K.-based technology development and licensing company Scipher PLC to broker licensing agreements with the U.S. ISPs. BT said that 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, with Robert Cailliau, to write the underlying protocols -- including HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol -- for what later came to be known as the World Wide Web, at the CERN nuclear research center in Switzerland in the late 1980s. 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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