Open Letter to Mr. Charles J. Roesslein, CEO, Prodigy

by Don Marti

Since I work for a company that makes hyperlinks among other things, and since I make some links in my spare time, I naturally got worried about the fact that British Telecom is actually suing you over their ridiculous claim that they, not Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Doug Engelbart, or anybody else invented hyperlinks. Could this be the end of the Web as we know it?

But then I started to relax a little. You see, BT's law firm is Kenyon and Kenyon, a protection racket that makes its living shaking companies down for royalties on bogus patents. Bottom feeders. They would probably be sending out green card spam if they knew how to work a computer.

The Internet community has beaten Kenyon & Kenyon harassment before, and we can do it again. Do a web search on "+CueCat +Linux" (what the hell, I'll make it a link for you) and you'll find that they're the firm that tried to intimidate a bunch of Linux hackers into ceasing, desisting, and otherwise caving in to legal threats over independent software developed to make the CueCat work with Linux. As we should all know by now, the Linux software that these latter-day Stamp Taxers tried to stomp out now flies free over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Brave. That's the key word here. If a few low-budget C programmers can stand up and be counted, and assert their right to advance the common computing goals of humanity, then you can too. Settlements don't buy you peace in any time--they just attract more parasites. Ever hear of a dog with "worm", singular? No matter what they offer, no matter how much they threaten, fight. Your shareholders will thank you next year, when the next batch of parasites leaves you alone.

So, it's not fair for us professional and amateur hyperlink fans to urge you to resist a harassing lawsuit and then leave you to do it by yourself. So what do you need? A well-publicized search for prior art to strike their patent down? Mozilla got help from the Internet community to beat a similar bogus patent lawsuit (Wang claimed they invented bookmarks), and maybe people can find some more good examples of systems that look like today's hyperlinks a hell of a lot more than whatever old crap BT is waving around looks like today's hyperlinks. (BountyQuest might be a good tool here.)

Or does Prodigy need any other help, for that matter -- a hand truck or two for your file cartons full of prior art? Or a cool beverage? Just ask. The Internet stands with you on this one as long as you don't back down. BT and Kenyon and Kenyon may think that they can make you pay up first before they move on to bigger prey such as AT&T and AOL. But they're pulling on the essential wires of the Internet, and the rest of us would be fools not to help defend it. What do you need? Don't be shy.

When clueless companies start throwing "intellectual property" claims around to suppress competitors or to extract money from innovators who have left them in the dust, that's a threat to our economy and, when they attack free communication protocols, it's a threat to our freedom. In the long run, I hope that this case will make you as dedicated a software patent reform advocate as I am. But for now, don't give the bastards an inch and you'll get all the help you need.

Don MartiTechnical Editor, Linux Journal

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