Skip to main content
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!

AOL could strike gold with IM patent

   Story Tools

LONDON (Reuters) -- Media giant AOL Time Warner has quietly won a U.S. patent for instant messaging, a potential goldmine as the online activity rivals mobile phone text-messaging as the most popular new communication tool.

The patent, issued in September, grants AOL's instant messaging subsidiary ICQ broad ownership rights to the technology, which enables users to chat quickly and cheaply across the Internet.

The broad wording of the patent means AOL could get an important legal leg up on rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo, the other players in the potentially lucrative instant messaging (IM) arena that have their own proprietary technologies.

Developing secure applications

AOL Time Warner, CNN's parent company, has offered little comment on the patent or whether it it intends to enforce it.

"There are no plans to do anything with the patent at this time," a London spokesman for AOL's Internet division, America Online, said Thursday.

Microsoft and AOL have recently embarked on a project to develop secure chat applications for corporate users, the first major effort to cash in on what has been a largely free software tool. Reuters Group is one of the biggest corporate clients, using Microsoft's IM technology.

AOL has scores of other technology patents, including one for Internet browsing memory tags, or "cookies," and another for Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), an application that secures e-commerce transactions. But it has never sought to enforce these.

It has, however, been notoriously protective of its IM technology. It did not permit rivals' proprietary IM applications to communicate with its own AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ for years. It now allows this, albeit in a limited fashion.

Collecting royalties?

The new patent defines AOL's IM application as one that enables users to chat with and identify one another across a specific "communications network," opening up the possibility for AOL to collect royalties from rivals.

Developed in the mid-1990s by a group of Israeli technologists at a company called Mirabilis, ICQ was the first breakthrough chat application. It filed a patent for its technology in 1997 and was acquired by AOL in 1998 for $287 million.

AOL said it has 180 million registered AIM users and 140 million registered ICQ users. The company said 2.1 billion instant messages were sent across its network daily.

Copyright 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Story Tools

Top Stories
Burgers, lattes and CD burners
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.