18 December 2002
I seek bucks
According to U.S. Patent #6,449,344, filed in 1997 and granted this fall, instant messaging as we know it was invented by Mirabilis, the Israeli firm which created the ICQ IM client, now a part of the lumbering AOL Time Warner conglomerate. This will come as a surprise to those of us who were sending IMs in the middle 80s on QuantumLink, an online service dedicated to the Commodore 64 computer, whose parent company is now known as, um, America Online.
It's difficult to imagine why AOL would bother to try to get a patent on this fairly nebulous concept, unless it's to further annoy rivals who would like access to AOL's AIM and ICQ users, and to toss a monkey wrench into the FCC's demand that AOL, as a condition of the merger that put it under Time Warner's tent, open up its IM network. Armed with a patent, AOL could theoretically stall for twenty years or so. But given AOL Time Warner's always-precarious financial condition, the most likely result of the patent, should it stand up in court, is that AOL will seek licensing revenue from firms with IM clients of their own.