December 19, 2000

Petition: Stop BT's hyperlink patent claim

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

A longtime Linux user hopes a petition will convince British Telecom to back off its claim of having a patent on hyperlinks.

Rick Collette, a Unix system administrator and Webmaster of the Linux community site organized the petition Friday, after hearing that British Telecom was suing Internet service provider Prodigy on BT's claims that it should be compensated for the use of hyperlinks.

"Just think of the impact it could have on anybody's day-to-day life," Collette says of BT's claim. "I don't know if anybody can grasp how big this is. This could affect the way we do business -- this could affect everybody."

Collette says he's not sure what he hopes the petition will accomplish, short of the unlikely event that BT will back down from its claims. He plans to give the petition to Prodigy, as a show of support, and he plans to distribute it to as many media organizations that will listen -- "online, offline, it doesn't matter, just anybody and everybody."

BT researchers developing text-based information services, applied for a patent in 1976 . The U.S. Patent Office granted the company a patent in 1989. But Collette says it'd be chaos if all the creators of the many Open Source projects that help run the Internet would sudden decide they want royalties. "I'm puzzled why anybody would want to do this," he says of BT's actions.

Collette, a Linux user since 1993 or '94, says the petition isn't a publicity stunt for, a hobby site he launched in mid-November. The petition is hosted away from his site, at The petition announcement on his site does include a link to some hypertext history.

As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 150 signatures, many including comments. A German resident wrote: "Hypertext is the digital equivalent to footnotes, which are even older than the British Telecom!"

Another comment, from someone in the U.K.: "The only good thing about this whole issue is that it highlights the stupidity of software patents."

Collette hopes that anyone who uses hyperlinks on the Web will consider signing the petition.

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