The patent (6449344), originally filed in 1997, and granted in September this year, gives AOL instant messaging subsidiary ICQ rights as the inventor of the popular IM Internet application. The patent covers anything resembling a network that lets multiple IM users see when other people are present and then communicate with them.Microsoft and Yahoo's IM software could infringe on the new patent, though whether AOL will take them on remains to be seen. In the past, AOL has done everything in its power to prevent interoperability between its IM networks and others. That kind of attitude doesn't suggest that AOL will keep this patent quietly tucked away in their back pocket for long.
"The claim is it's a system where you have a network; you have a way to monitor who's on the network; and if you want to talk to them you hook them up," said Gregory Aharonian, publisher of Internet Patent News Service, a newsletter that's critical of technology patents. "If you're doing something like that, you're potentially infringing."
Maybe I'm out of the loop, but I can't recall seeing any mention of this patent before. ICQ's legal page does, however, offer the following disclaimer:
The ICQ system and the methodology of its operation are protected by US patent No. 6,449,344Doh!