BT just can't seem to get over this monopoly thing. Last year it decided to come over all precious and remind everyone that it had patented something very much like the hyperlink. It seems it's still gung ho to prove it, in court.

A court date was set on Monday in the lawsuit brought by BT against US-based Prodigy Communications for patent infringement through the ISP's (internet service provider) unauthorised use of the hyperlink.

Last year, BT said it had discovered that it holds US patent 4,873,662 for the invention of hyperlink technology used on the internet and, on 13 December 2000, filed a suit in the US federal court in White Plains, New York.

In Monday's pre-trial hearing a court date was set for 11 and 12 February 2002, with Judge Mark Fox presiding, a federal court deputy said yesterday.

BT and Prodigy could not immediately be reached for comment, though BT in the past has declined to discuss the details of the case except to say that it is seeking "appropriate reparations" from Prodigy.

Early in 2000, after discovering in a routine check that it owned the patent for the hyperlink, BT wrote to 17 US ISPs, including Prodigy, asking them to pay for the privilege of using the technology through licensing agreements.

The suit filed against Prodigy, which claims to be the largest consumer DSL (digital subscriber line) ISP as well as the first commercial ISP in the US, is the first suit BT has filed to protect its hyperlink patent.

BT owns what it calls the Hidden Page patent, which was filed in the US in 1976, granted in 1989 and isn't due to expire until 2006, giving the company the intellectual property rights to hyperlink technology.

Hyperlinks connect text, images and other data on the internet in such a way as to allow a user to click on a highlighted object on a web page in order to bring up an associated item contained elsewhere on the web.

BT has rather generously said that it would not pursue patent claims with individual users, as it would "not be practical".