18 December, 2002

What Ben Missed

Previously, I posted a link to Ben Stein's article about how to ruin American enterprise. One of the things that Mr. Stein forgot, though, was allowing the US Patent Office to issue frivolous patents. Take, for instance, AOL, which has just successfully taken out a patent on....instant messaging.

"THE CLAIM is it's a system where you have a network; you have a way to monitor who's on the network; and if you want to talk to them you hook them up," said Gregory Aharonian, publisher of Internet Patent News Service, a newsletter that's critical of technology patents. "If you're doing something like that, you're potentially infringing."

Seeing as how AIM wasn't exactly johnny on the spot in the IM world, the patent was issued to ICQ. Naturally, this could cause some problems for Microsoft, Yahoo, and anyone else who happens to have written an IM service/client of some form. The article does state that it's unlikely AOL will ever try to sue someone over this, and has taken out the patent as a "defensive measure".

Of course, what the article fails to state, is that years before ICQ came around, I and most everyone else who was connected to the internet could do exactly what they listed above:

# finger user@someplace.com[Various user information, including whether or not the user is online]# talk user@someplace.com[Interactive talk session comes up]

Or I could've used ytalk or ntalk. Whatever happened to be installed on both systems, basically. Sure, it wasn't as user friendly as today's services. But it was certainly around for years before ICQ.

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