AltaVista's claim that it owns patents to virtually all search engine technology has been mocked by a search engine veteran, Alan Emtage.
The CEO of AltaVista's parent company CMGI, David Wetherall, said in an Internet World interview earlier this month that not only did AltaVista have a large number of patents on search engines but that the company would start to pursue people that infringed them (i.e. everyone).
This was too much for Alan Emtage, who created one of the earliest search engines, Archie. In a Business Wire press release, Alan explained that his engine - released first in 1989 - used FTP to crawl public sites and index them for Internet users. At its peak, there were apparently over 30 Archie indexers, searching millions of files.
Emtage said: "Though I'm not a lawyer, the patents being 'defended' by CMGI/AltaVista include basic concepts that were incorporated into the Archie system years before the World Wide Web even existed. Archie was crawling and indexed FTP sites with fairly sophisticated algorithms even as I was sitting at Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meetings with Tim Berners-Lee while he created the World Wide Web."
In relation to Wetherell's war mongering, Entage said: "I'm amused, or more accurately, bemused, by the idea that such basic concepts underlying Internet search engines could be patented by a latecomer like CMGI/AltaVista. Archie, and other systems like Veronica (which indexed Gopher sites) had come up with and implemented these processes years before the Web even existed."
He has also released an open letter saying that he is happy to help anyone approached by CMGI for alleged patent infringement. Emtage is clearly not in a mood to see big business eat away at the original fabric of the Internet for the sake of increased profits. And big business would do well to read its history books before announcing its omnipotence. ®