21 June 2000

In an audacious attempt to cash-in on the rise, rise and rise of the worldwide web, British Telecom is claiming it holds a patent on hyperlink technology – a key element of the web that allows users to jump from one site or page to another. The telecoms giant cites a patent for its ‘Hidden Page’ technology, filed in the US in 1976 and granted thirteen years later.

The forgotten patent came to light three years ago during a routine review of BT's 15,000 patents. Now BT is demanding a licensing fee from US internet service providers for use of what it what it claims to be its intellectual property.

Currently, there an estimated 1.5bn pages on the web, each with an average of 52 links. If the claim is successful, BT stands to make millions from the licence agreements, although the patent expires in 2006.

BT would be ill-advised to try and exact the claim, opines Ben Goodger, a technology and intellectual property expert in law firm Willoughby and Partners. "The commercial damage and unpopularity which BT would bring on its head if it tried to enforce this patent would be incalculable," he said.

Scipher, an intellectual property specialist retained by BT to pursue commercial users, has mailed a large number of American ISPs demanding that they enter into licensing agreements. Consumers will not be asked for payment.

The global hypertext system now claimed by BT is generally credited to Briton Tim Berners-Lee who, in turn, acknowledges the work of computing pioneer Ted Nelson - widely regarded as the father of hypertext.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)