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Rim Scandal: another nail in patent vampire NTP's coffin?

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 18 April 2006


Evidence has emerged that NTP's invalid patent on wireless email should never have been granted - because a company founded on "prior art" was actually trading back in 1986.

The company was unearthed in the New York Times recently, by reporter John Markoff, who tracked inventor Geoff Goodfellow down.

Goodfellow invented wireless email in 1982, and on the strength of that invention, persuaded ARPA to assign Port 90 for the purpose of sending email to wireless computers - an assignment which still stands.

Wrote Markoff: "Two things are certain. Mr. Goodfellow, an early participant in Silicon Valley's grass-roots computer culture, disdained the notion of protecting his ideas with patents. And Thomas J. Campana Jr., a Chicago inventor with no such qualms, patented the idea of wireless electronic mail almost a decade after Mr. Goodfellow's original work."

Markoff's story points the moral with a quote from legendary IT pioneer Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus: "The moral of the story is that for a long time now the patent system has been misused," he told the NY Times "If it had been properly used, NTP would never have been issued its patents, and they never would have had a basis to pursue a lawsuit against RIM."

You'll have to register as a reader of the paper to read the full article, which exposes clear evidence that, even while pursuing the case against RIM, NTP was fully aware of the fact that its legal claim against the Canadian company could only be sustained if Goodfellow's work was kept secret.

Goodfellow launched Anterior Technology in 1986; a company which later traded as Radio Mail from  1990. But despite paying Goodfellow $4,000 a day to advise them in 2002, NTP lawyers stoutly deny knowing about this "prior art" reports the NY Times: "Mr. Wallace said by e-mail that he was not aware of Mr. Goodfellow's 1982 article — though Mr. Goodfellow says he described his 1982 work in detail to NTP lawyers — and that NTP's patent claims turn on integration with a 'destination computer,' not a pager.

It's an argument which is unlikely to impress those who accuse NTP of patent extortion.

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