As many others have noted, U.S. patent 6,449,344 was issued to AOL last September. Naturally, many people have said that the patent is “obvious,” and have started to search for prior art. Tim O’Reilly received an e-mail noting a possible previous communication system, but the legal system is heavily weighted in favor of printed and dated pieces of paper. E-mails and screen captures are not likely to be effective prior art in litigation.
Greg Aharonian’s PATNEWS mailing list is a fun-filled newsletter, always delivered with at least a slight touch of sarcasm. (Sign up for the list here.) A recent message noted two papers that might undermine AOL’s newly minted patent. Both describe Zephyr, a communication system developed by MIT as part of Project Athena.
DellaFera, C.A., et. al. “The Zephyr notification service.” USENIX Association Winter 1988 Conference, pp. 213-219. (Sadly, USENIX conference proceedings are only on-line from 1993 onward, so this paper isn’t available in electronic form.) The abstract reads:
“Zephyr is a notice transport and delivery system under development at Project Athena. Zephyr is for use by network-based services and applications with a need for immediate, reliable and rapid communication with their clients. Zephyr meets the high-throughput, high fan-out communications requirements of large-scale workstation environments. It is designed as a suite of ‘layered services’ based on a reliable, authenticated notice protocol. Multiple, redundant Zephyr servers provide basic routing, queueing, and dispatching services to clients that communicate via the Zephyr Client Library. More advanced communication services are built upon this base.”
Fay, D.Q.M. “Internet and the electronic classroom.” Microprocessing & Microprogramming, December 1994, pp. 847-50. The abstract reads, in part,
“Describes the use of gopher, WWW, ftp, telnet, e-mail, and online Zephyr messaging for a first-year university undergraduate computer science module. The aims of the module, and the profile of the students are described. The computing environment available to undergraduates is described in detail…”
I’ve never used Zephyr. If you have, how much like IM was it?