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BT could face legal action if it pursues its claim over the ownership of hyperlinks.

Anger against BT's patent - predominantly in the US where the intellectual property specialists are currently talking to ISPs over issuing licences - has flared quicker than hooligans rioting after a game of basketball.

Some experts quoted in the British press this morning claim BT has a strong case and could reap millions from US ISPs.

Ironically, it's an action welcomed by some. Donavon J Pfeiffer Jr told The Register: "As an American citizen, steeped in greed and raised on profit motive and litigation, I am hopeful that BT wins this lawsuit.

"I and my cyberbuddies will then launch a class action suit against BT for every broken link we've ever had to deal with using product liability as the basis for the suit. After all, one load of bovine fecal (UK spelling faecal) matter deserves another.

It's also been suggested that since the patent was registered by the then state-owned General Post Office (GPO) and not a private company (BT), then the telco should have lost all rights to the patent years ago. Critics of this, no doubt, would argue that intellectual property - like real estate - would have been transferred to the new operation as a matter or course.

Others have pointed out that the hypertext and hyperlink concept pre-dates that of even Ted Nelson's 1970s reference.

Apparently, it goes at least as far back as Vannevar Bush's article, "As We May Think", published in the July 1945 edition of Atlantic Monthly.

Elsewhere, one former BT employee wrote to provide an insight into the company's culture and offers an explanation as to why the patent has only now been unearthed.

"You ask the question 'why did BT only decide now to capitalise on its intellectual property?' which betrays a certain lack of understanding about the internal culture of BT," according to this one-time "saltminer".

"The illusion of a single-purpose or controlling strategy within BT is risible at best. It is a seething collection of warring little tin pot empires, more intent on crushing the opposition in the next office than facing the competition in the telecomms marketplace.

"It staggers me that anyone in BT even found this old patent. The fact that it exists doesn't surprise me - BT holds patents on some wide-ranging (and often very tenuous) stuff. It's a regular occurrence at Martlesham Heath, when a manager is feeling a bit insecure, to post off the contents of a filing cabinet to the Intellectual Properties Unit (IPU) for them to pick over. Then at the end-of-year performance review, they can point to their score of XX patent applications as if this was some form of realised objective.

"No doubt the eager IPU beaver who spotted this will be suitably rewarded with a book token or BT-branded tie.

"When you think about research in the telecomms business, just ask yourself the question - how many Nobel Prizes go to Bell Labs and how many to BT?"

No doubt BT's claim on this essential part of the Web will continue to spark comment and reaction. ®

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