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IM patent prior art

Ok, on the AOL IM patent: talking about combinations of who and talk was fun, but I decided that I should actually find some prior art that I consider meaningful against this patent.

First I looked up the actual patent from USPTO; read the abstract and try not to choke on it:

The present invention discloses a communication system including a communications network, a multiplicity of communications terminals which are connectable to the communications network and which can be employed by users to communicate via the communications network, the user not necessarily being identified with a given communications terminal, apparatus for monitoring whether or not a user is connected to the communications network irrespective of which of the multiplicity of communications terminals that user is employing, and apparatus for annunciating to a seeking user, currently connected to the communications network via any of the multiplicity of communications terminals, network connection status information relating to other users who are in a set of sought users, which set is definable by the seeking user, and for providing the seeking user connection address information relating to those sought users who are currently connected to the communications network.
Ok, so it seems that the main claim is related to the concept of "user" being separated from that of "terminal". The background in the patent supports this interpretation:
Some commercial and non-commercial services maintain network servers connected to a network. Users who connect to the network provide their current network address and other identifying information to one or more of these network servers. This information is made available to other users connected to the network for purposes including point-to-point communications. Such services include Internet Relay Chat (IRC), for which software is commercially available from Surfing Squirrel Productions, Inc., Microsoft User Location Service (ULS), commercially available from Microsoft Corporation, and the Automatic Call Distribution System (ACD), commercially available from Executone Information Systems, Inc.

A user wishing to locate another user may connect to a network server that records user information in order to determine the other user's network address. A user usually locates another user by looking for the other user's electronic mail address, one or more nicknames that the other user often uses, or other identifying information. The effective use of such identifying information is limited inasmuch as a single user might have multiple electronic mail addresses, multiple users might use the same nickname, or a user might be connected via another user's network connection.

Unfortunately, services like those mentioned above do not generally provide for the unique identification of each user, thereby facilitating accurate location a specific user. Furthermore, such services require that users actively seek out other users, often from among several hundreds or thousands of users known to a server to be connected to a network at any given time. Such services also do not enable a user to limit who may access that user's identification information.

So here we see clearly that the main different between ICQ and IRC is that the username has been "virtualized" through the user of the unique ID, therefore allowing the server to resolve the pointer to the actual machine. Note that they already mention, for example, IRC, which is a real example of my "joke example" yesterday of who/talk, since when you're on IRC and someone joins a channel, you're notified.

Okay, so the central "innovative" claim of the patent seems to be that the unique User ID, separate from any machine, resident on a server, is what makes this different. So I looked for the most direct example of it that I could think of, just off the top of my head, and SIP came to mind. Here is what the SIP page says:

SIP, the Session Initiation Protocol, is a signaling protocol for Internet conferencing, telephony, presence, events notification and instant messaging. SIP was developed within the IETF MMUSIC (Multiparty Multimedia Session Control) working group, with work proceeding since September 1999 in the IETF SIP working group.
Note that the IETF has had a SIP group since 1999! That must mean that the core of the SIP idea predates 1999 by some time, no? How much time, though? The patent was filed in 1997...

And sure here is the first SIP draft, when it was called SCIP. It's from 1996. This means that the concepts involved in SCIP are obviously prior to 1996, by at least one or two years. No ICQ back then...

Case closed.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on December 19 2002 at 11:23 AM

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