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Patent claim a threat to electronic commerce

July 7, 1996


Imagine the shock Hardin County business owners would feel if they suddenly were threatened with a lawsuit for the simple act of making a financial transaction with customers and vendors.

Then you can imagine the chill has reverberated through the Internet since E-Data Corporation announced its intentions to pursue its claim that many electronic transactions (both now and in the future) are covered by a patent the company holds -- and intends to litigate to protect.

The patent, as described at E-Data's site on the World-Wide Web, was first granted in July 1985 and covers the distribution and purchase of goods by digital means. This includes software, images, music, video, news and other information -- in other words, a rather extensive chunk of what is and will be available in the future on the Net.

The patent was purchased by Interactive Gift Exchange (later renamed E-Data Corp.) in 1994, and since last August, E-Data has filed more than 40 lawsuits claiming patent infringement against a variety of companies -- including some of the big names in the world of on-line computing and gaming: Adobe, Broderbund, CompuServe, McGraw-Hill, Dunn & Bradstreet, Apogee Software and others.

As as result of the threat of litigation, a number of companies have since purchased licenses from the company, including IBM, VocalTec and First Virtual. Any companies that is currently selling products over the Internet is a prime target for E-Data.

More recently, the company sent out 75,000 information packets to companies it has identified as infringers on its patent. E-Data has created an amnesty period, giving companies until Aug. 31 to avoid possible litigation by purchasing an E-Data license on a ``low-cost sliding scale.''

The patent has created a great deal of concern on the Web, since E-Data's claim mean nearly every transaction on the Internet could fall under their patent -- and require the purchase of a license. In 1984, the patent covered a specific system of electronic distribution. Can it be extrapolated to cover much of the commerce of the Internet?

A number of companies have purchased E-Data licenses, but CompuServe and other firms being sued are fighting in federal court, with the latest round apparently going to CompuServe.

A federal judge ruled this week that before the court continues the suit, E-Data must justify its actions and further clarify its claims of infringement against CompuServe.

How it shakes out, and how it will apply to the Internet remains to be seen. But for E-Data, a decision in their favor (and the resulting sale of licenses) could be a windfall of huge proportions.

For more information on E-Data's patent, point your browser to http://www.3w.net/corp/edata/

WEB TOURISM. A recent area addition to the World-Wide Web is the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourism Commission's new site at http://www.ltadd.dst.ky.us/bullitt/.

The home page is well designed and rich in graphics and information. The graphics can take a few moments to download to your browser when you first visit, but most of the graphics are reused throughout the site and don't take much time to reload after that.

The Bullitt County site highlights the best (and often overlooked) sights and attractions of our neighboring county.

No matter if you're a tourism professional or just curious about what's going on in Bullitt County, the site's got some solid information. Maps, lists of businesses and points of interest are all a mouse click away.

My favorite is a special section devoted to collectibles and antiques. Having shopped a number of the area's antique stores in the past, the Web site will be a handy resource for finding those great spots that may be off the beaten path.

In addition to an on-line guest book, the site also offers a form for those interested in bringing tour bus groups to Bullitt County, which like Hardin is centrally located and within an easy drive of many attractions.

ALL-STAR NET. Attention Major League Baseball fans! NBC Sports, Major League Baseball and Instant Sports have teamed up to create the first interactive coverage of the Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.

The Java-enhanced site will offer a visual play-by-play of the action, contained in a graphic of the stadium where the July 9 game will be played. Inside the stadium, animated images of players will circling the bases and indicators will showing exactly in the park the ball was hit (Those of us without Java can still enjoy the game, with by-the-play text updates).

Instant Sports will archive the game, and with a Java-enabled browser, you'll be able to replay any part of the game.

So fire up your browser and enjoy the game from the first ``virtual stadium.'' Game time is 8 p.m.

FISHY BUSINESS. Charlie the Tuna has returned as the spokesman --er, spokesfish -- for StarKist tuna. Charlie's back and he's a self-proclaimed ``tuna for the 90s.''

From his backwards ball cap to his search for an Internet chat group for rejected tunas, Charlie is once again promoting his favorite brand.

Those of us old enough to have grown up with the ``Sorry, Charlie'' voiceover in his commercials will appreciate the humor and hard work that's gone into Charlie's new Web site.

Download audio and video clips of his past (and present) commercials as you flip through his scrapbook. Hardcore Charlie fans will want to download his free Charlie the Tuna screen saver (Mac and PC formats available), print out the coloring book pages for the kids to color, order the Charlie the Tuna mousepad, Charlie the Tuna tattoos or t-shirt.

For more information, surf (dive?) to http://www.starkist.com/.

THE EYES HAVE IT. Prevent Blindness America has launched a new site devoted to eye care education and testing.

Sponsored partly by Sears Optical, the site is a resource for eye-care information, and even offers at-home eye tests for various age groups.

Information available includes a glaucoma assessment checklist, as well as other information about eyestrain using computer monitors and tips for checking your child's eye sight.

The Web site is promoting free eye exams on the fourth annual All American Eye Check Day. Selected Sears Optical departments will offer free eye exams from noon to 4 p.m. on Aug. 4.

For more information, visit http://prevent-blindness.org/

KVN UPDATE. Last week's column on local Internet providers failed to mention that KVN does offer customer support. The Cindy Trumbo staffs the help desk, which is available through the week at 763-9101.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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