Prodigy strikes victory in BT hyperlink patent suit

Prodigy strikes victory in BT hyperlink patent suit

A US federal judge has thrown out the claim by British Telecommunications (BT) that Prodigy Communications violated a patent on hyperlinking, the technology that connects data on the Web via highlighted object links.

Judge Colleen McMahon of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a summary judgment in Prodigy's favor saying the company did not violate a patent that BT claims for hyperlink technology. The decision came on the heels of a previous order from McMahon that limited how BT could present and defend its claims on the patent. A summary judgment is a ruling in which the judge decides there are no factual issues that remain to be tried in a case and so parts of the case, or the entire complaint, can be decided without a trial. It can be appealed.

BT, based in London, claimed that its so-called Sargent patent, US patent number 4,873,662, filed in the US in 1976 and granted in 1989, provided the company with the rights to hyperlinking.

"I find that as a matter of law, no jury could find that Prodigy infringes the Sargent patent, nor that Prodigy contributes to infringement of the Sargent patent, nor actively induces others to infringe that patent," McMahon wrote in Thursday's opinion. "I therefore grant Prodigy's motion for summary judgment."

Prodigy, now a subsidiary of SBC Communications in Texas, has said it was the first commercial Internet service provider in the US and that this status made it the target for BT's suit.

"At this point, we trust that this will put to rest the claims that have been made," said an SBC spokesman. "We are hoping that this puts the issue to rest."

A BT spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the judge's decision at this time.

"It's a pretty lengthy ruling," said Diane Noe, the BT spokeswoman. "We are going through it and assessing our options."

BT first filed suit in a federal court in White Plains, New York, in regard to the alleged patent infringement. The company said the patent stemmed from research by an employee of the UK General Post Office (GPO) in the 1970s into text-based information systems. The GPO was divided into BT and the Post Office in 1981.

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