Lamest patent prior-art search ever?

AOL patents instant messaging (/.). ‘Specifically, any technology that provides ‘a network that allows multiple users to see when other users are present and then to communicate with them’ is covered.’

The CNet story which /. references points out that the patent was filed in 1997 — but that’s still 6 years after I wrote a similar perl script on the Maths Department UNIX machines in TCD. There’s a myriad of similar apps, of the same vintage, too.

The thing I find amazing is this, however — the AOL patent actually cites prior art in its References section, namely the xhtalk README file, dated 1992. There’s nothing different between xhtalk and AOL Instant Messenger apart from the protocol and the look and feel, and those aren’t key to the patent.

The US patent office really needs to start reading the patent applications before granting them.

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