AOL owns Instant Messaging?
December 18, 2002 9:06 AM   Subscribe

AOL owns Instant Messaging? - MSNBC is reporting that AOL's subsidary ICQ has received a patent for Instant Messaging. I would have thought IRC was enough prior art to invalidate the claim, but the Patent Office knows best. Can AOL put the genie back in the bottle?
posted by Argyle (15 comments total)
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) isn't the same as instant messaging. The key feature of IM as opposed to chat is its one-to-one-ness.

Something like the old Unix talk program might be closer to prior art, but I don't think it provided any sort of awareness-of-friends list.

What about private messages on older systems? Some BBSes had something form of this, and I'd guess Compuserv and other networks might have as well. Can anybody elaborate?
posted by tresolini at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2002

AOL wasn't even the one that applied for the patent. AOL acquired Mirabilis in 1998, but the patent was applied for in 1997 at then-independant Mirabilis.

Can they put the genie back in the bottle? Probably not, but they could try to get money from it from Yahoo!, MSN, et. al.

But AOL also owns patents on SSL and cookie technology through their acquisition of Netscape Communications, and have not abused them.
posted by benjh at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2002

Software patents. {spits}.

When I worked at IBM, I was reliably informed that the Big Blue owns a patent on the computer menu. Not a drop-down menu, not a right click menu - any menu. I imagine it now has no legal use. Can someone back this up?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2002

"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.

There's not only IRC as prior art; I did that in 1987 with finger and talk. And how about BITNET?
posted by Slothrup at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2002

What about AppleTalk? Seriously. An AppleTalk machine, when plugged into the network, "announces" itself and automatically shows up on other AppleTalk machines' lists of whom it can talk to. Yeah, it's all automated and there are no "buddy lists", but it's still the same idea.
posted by mkultra at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2002

Obligatory Onion story.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:51 AM on December 18, 2002

Thing is when I first saw Instant Messaging, I was reminded of an old X-windows app called Zephyr which was, well, the same thing.
Anyone know more about this?
posted by Winterfell at 10:02 AM on December 18, 2002

MIT's Zephyr (by C. Anthony DellaFera, Robert S. French, et. al.), deployed in 1988, as the messaging system for Project Athena (deployed 1983) is considered to be the first widely used instant messaging system in the world.
posted by tamim at 10:25 AM on December 18, 2002

The Zephyr man page has a copyright date of 1987. Here is a project page for it at MIT where it was developed. It was already very popular in the UC school system when I arrived there in 1991 and my friends all used it to be notified of logins, send instant messages, etc.

There is no way that even a basic search of prior art would fail to find this. Wow, the patent system is completely broken? Why isn't anyone talking about this?! What would Ben Stein say?
posted by Voivod at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2002

This reminds me of when ActiveBuddy patented the use of IM bots. As if IRC bots hadn't been around forever...
posted by rhyax at 11:42 AM on December 18, 2002

Can AOL put the genie back in the bottle?

Better yet, can we find a genie to put AOL back in the bottle?
posted by BlueWolf at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2002

Ah, poor RFC 1459, my favorite little tool is the red-headed stepchild of network protocols.
posted by yonderboy at 5:12 PM on December 18, 2002

It's interesting to point out that another AOL property, CompuServe, introduced wide-scale real-time chat in 1980 with their 'CB Simulator.'
posted by zsazsa at 5:33 PM on December 18, 2002

Shells such as tcsh and zsh have long had watch lists for informing you whenever anyone on a list logs in or out. Combine that with write(1) (circa 1976) and you have an IM system that goes back well over a decade. BITnet SEND and Relay chat go back to the mid-80's. MUDs, although originally nominally designed as multiplayer role-playing games, had widespread use as conversational media by the '90s.
posted by hattifattener at 11:25 PM on December 18, 2002

I must admit, I immediately thought of finger and talk
posted by salmacis at 1:27 AM on December 19, 2002

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