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The US patent office has awarded Ideaflood a patent for managing sub-domain names.

In double quick-time, Ideaflood, which describes itself as an intellectual property (IP) holding company, has started sending letters to hosting providers in the US. It explained that any further sub-domain service for customers would need a license, purchased through Ideaflood, The Web Hosting Industry Review reports.

The requirements for a patent to be awarded are less stringent in the US than in Europe, but novelty is among them. So what is new in Ideaflood's patent?. The comments of one alarmed recipient of one of Ideaflood’s letters are reported on WHIR: “Isn't this general knowledge? How can it be patented?"

John McKenzie, an IP law specialist at UK technology law firm Masons argues that this patent is symptomatic of a very relaxed patent checking process in the US.

“Novelty is certainly an issue in this case: there is plenty of prior art,” he says. “The US system is storing up problems for the future. The patent office has a certain responsibility to check applications, but it is passing this responsibility on to the consumer.”

He said the attitude appears to be that checking the novelty of an application doesn’t matter, because if there is prior art, someone will find it and challenge the patent. But this breaks down when patent holders start chasing small businesses for license fees: the costs of contesting a patent can be enormous.

McKenzie advises companies which receive a letter asking for license fees that they should "absolutely respond to them, and ask for a clear explanation of the precise nature of the alleged infringement. If this patent does cover something new, the holder still has to demonstrate how the management of sub-domain names infringes on its IP.” ®

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