Long long ago (mid 1995, as far as I can recall) I saw, on the Budweiser web site, a neat feature. It was a digital postcard. You selected a photograph. You typed in a message (the default message, I seem to recall, was “The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful.”) and an email address. That person received an email message containing a URL. When they went to that URL, they would get your photo and your message. And here’s the crucial part (you’ll see why later). You just clicked on the URL. There was no typing in special keywords or ID numbers when you got there. You just clicked. And while I am not certain of the exact mechanism, it seems reasonable to guess that the argument (key, ID, whatever) was contained in a QUERY_STRING argument.
Well, as this was in the early days of the web, and CGI was still young, I thought I would do the same on my site. My site, at that time was http://s.ms.uky.edu/~rbowen/kenya/ Obviously, it’s not there any more. Now it is at http://kenya.rcbowen.com/ But this was back when domain names cost $70 a year, and I was a poor grad student. If you go to the latter URL, right click on the image on the front page, and select “view image”, you’ll notice that the resulting url contains the substring “postcard”. That’s because those images have been in that location ever since – in the /images/postcards/ subdirectory.
Anyways, that’s all ancient history. Fast-forward to today.
I just got a phone call from some Silicon Valley Lawyers. Seems that eBay/PalPal is being sued by some joker who has a patent on technology that they are using. Specifically, the patent describes a method by which a user inputs a message and an email address, the system sends email to the specified user containing a URL. When that user goes to the specified URL, they get the message and/or document. This is therefore a web-based out-of-band delivery mechanism. And they applied for this patent in 1996, receiving it in 1999.
The phone call was in reference to a usenet posting that I made in February of 1996, (HERE) and another I made in May of 1996, (HERE) referring to a script that I wrote “a long time ago” which implemented this web-based postcard thingy. Another note, in December of 1996, refers to a web site that listed “a few hundred of ’em” (HERE). This clearly establishes prior art. Better yet, I am almost certain that the source code of this program appears in a book that I contributed to in 1996, but I don’t have a copy of it here. I’ll have to check when I get home.
So, this would mean that I have prior art on this “proprietary technology.” And that I can play a role in striking down a patent that is Just Plain Wrong.
I’ll post more information, like the patent itself, once I get more information. I sincerely hope that posting this here does not in any way jeopardize the case, but I just had to share this with my readers – all three of you. 😉
Another relevant URL: The web.archive.org version of one of my web pages, containing a .tar.gz file of the postcard script with a file timestamp of Tue Dec 10 16:54:16 1996, and one of the files actually contains the following comment:
# Begun 12/4/95
And here we have a list of people that were using the software as of Jan 1997.
Google cache has a site discussing my script, saying that it is copyright 1996, and that the adapatation was done on Jan 4, 1996.