January 5, 1999 10:34 AM ET
A federal judge handed America Online a preliminary but significant
setback in the online giant's efforts to control use of three common
pieces of cyberlingo: "You have mail," "IM" [instant
messaging] and "buddy list."
<P>U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled AT&T made a compelling
case that the terms probably are generic, and he denied AOL's request
for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against
Ma Bell's use of the expressions. AOL still has the opportunity to
make a case at trial. Hilton's decision, issued Dec. 24, surfaced in
an AT&T announcement Monday.
<P>"This ruling helps all ISPs [Internet service providers],
Web companies and Internet users by recognizing the common language
of the Web is not owned by AOL or anyone else," exulted AT&T General
Counsel James Cicconi. "We recognize this is just a first round, but
AT&T is confident we will also prevail at trial."
<P>The lawsuit is part of complicated relationship between the two
communications goliaths. AOL is eager to gain broadband access to
consumers, while AT&T is trying to buy control of the @Home
cable-modem service through acquisition of Tele-Communications Inc.
AOL and AT&T both want to make a deal, but they have not been able to
reconcile conflicting interests on financial terms and control of