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The Internet Communications Patents Technology IT

MIT Lecturer Defends His Standing As Email Inventor 249

hapworth writes "IT professionals were recently outraged to hear that the Smithsonian acquired some code from MIT lecturer VA Shiva Ayyadurai who has convinced no less august pubs than Time Magazine and The Washington Post that he invented email. While objectors howl on forums and message boards, VA Shiva Ayyadurai spoke up today to defend his standing as email's creator, claiming he doesn't regret not patenting it because he doesn't believe in software patents."
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MIT Lecturer Defends His Standing As Email Inventor

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  • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Informative)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:43PM (#39142121)

    and Ray used it to send e-mail between different machines in 1971 on the ARPANET. How this 1978 guy's claim has any legs I don't get.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:49PM (#39142185) Journal

    I was referring to Unix-style email, which is the granddaddy of most the email passed around today. By 1973 there was RFC 561, which was, so far as I'm aware the first description of a proper ARPANET text message.

  • More details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:54PM (#39142229) []

    1) He did not invent it.
    2) He did copyright the term "EMAIL" in 1982.
    3) But he doesn't believe in software patents.

    Now he is trying to twist his "copyright on "EMAIL"" into "Invention of EMAIL" with nothing more than his own words.

    Wake me up when Dennis Ritchie returns to whoop his undeserving ass...

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @07:57PM (#39142267) Homepage Journal
    Actually it mentions the 1978 DEC marketing message (a fairly well-known event) in line with an earlier 1971 war protest message. The 1978 date was the first commercial spam. I guess we might use a different term for it today, but it was definitely unsolicited.
  • CTSS 1965, Multics (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:02PM (#39142327)

    "CTSS had mail and inter-user messaging in 1965. These facilities were useful in the initial construction of Multics. Multics provided mail and inter-user messaging between users on the same system as early as 1968. Extending mail on a single system to mail across the network was a development effort started in the early 70s that continued into the 1990s.

    THVV wrote the first mail command for 645 Multics in 1968, imitating the CTSS MAIL command. "


    See 3.3.2

  • Re:This is silly. (Score:4, Informative)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:04PM (#39142341) Journal

    Quite right. There are a number of different formats. But the most widely used one is based on RFC561 all the way back in 1973 (though I imagine it only formalized what guys like Ray Tomlinson had already been doing for a couple of years). Both UUCP and SMTP were built specifically with this basic format in mind, since by the time they were developed, it had been in use for years.

  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:09PM (#39142375)

    From TFA: VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims is to have created the first "graphical front end for an electronic mail system",

    Which is still wrong. Even the piece about the "To:" and the use of user'@'host which existed in RFC469 around 74, reaffirmed in RFC498, and the Mail Transfer Protocol RFC772 dated 1980 which kicked off the the modern internet version of SMTP, none of which include VA Shiva's name, btw. I suppose all the programs that were running at that time that generated the need for those RFCs had no "graphical front end" for the electronic mail that they were serving?

    and was the first to copyright the term "EMAIL". It is the craziness of the mass media that translates a copyright filing as "Invention".

    Now that one I can believe, but whether it's a legitimate copyright is a different thing. Knowing the military's proclivity to abbreviate, I wouldn't be surprised if e-mail and email, as well as EML and all caps forms in various ARPANET related documentation, already existed long before VA Shiva came along to "claim" the copyright. (Copyright is automatically granted, and as far as I know you can't copyright a word, you can Trademark it though.

  • by PatPending ( 953482 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:10PM (#39142393)

    His name is on three separate patents; are these "software patents?" (Presumably he has had a change of mind.)

    6,718,368 System and method for content-sensitive automatic reply message generation for text-based asynchronous communications

    6,718,367 Filter for modeling system and method for handling and routing of text-based asynchronous communications

    6,668,281 Relationship management system and method using asynchronous electronic messaging

    Source: []>

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:17PM (#39142445) Homepage

    ...for the record, what he did appear to contribute (or at least copyright) was the word 'EMAIL', although 'electronic mail' existed as early as 1965.

    This claim in itself is fishy. You can't copyright "terms." That's not what copyright is for. Copyright is for individual works. He could have copyrighted his source code (in fact it was automatically copyrighted as soon as he wrote it), but there's no way he could claim ownership of a "term" other than by trademarking it. Some bad reporting happened somewhere along the line, here, and now it's getting regurgitated all over the Interwebs.

  • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

    by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:20PM (#39142493) Homepage

    Ayyadurai may have been the first person to use the term "email".

    Nope; that was probably BBN Mercury in 1965. Every important component to e-mail can be found by that year []; that page even specifically debunks this bozo at the top. Like a lot of things, the minute electronic mail became feasible to build, e-mail was built by multiple people. All the requirements were in place the minute a community of people on time-shared computers existed. The number of independent creations of the same thing during a short time period show it was really an obvious next step the minute two people could use the same computer.

  • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:33PM (#39142581) Homepage

    I find it amusing that the incomplete 1971 ancestor to RFC561, RFC196 [] "A Mail Box Protocol", already includes the concept that instead of a full mail program you might just telnet somewhere and speak the mail protocol to that.

  • Re:More details (Score:5, Informative)

    by almitydave ( 2452422 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @08:38PM (#39142625)

    According to the Wikipedia article linked above, he copyrighted his email program which was called "EMAIL". So the copyright is on the software, not the term, which as numerous people here have mentioned is not eligible for copyright.

  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:10PM (#39142879) Journal

    This NYTArticle [] from April 28, 1957 says:

    Mail Sped by Electronics Predicted by Summerfield; One-Day Delivery Sought Between Any 2 Cities --Many 'Ifs' in Plan ELECTRONIC MAIL SEEN IN A DECADE Senate to Study Bill Full Report Planned 'Pattern' for Country Fire From Two Sides Question of 'Intangibles'

    WASHINGTON, April 27--The Post Office Department envisions a five-to-ten-year transition to the electronic age...

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:19PM (#39142935)

    As he says on his Web site [], he's the "inventor of EMAIL".

    He does not, however, say he's the inventor of email or e-mail or electronic mail, so I guess he means he's the inventor of a system named "EMAIL". the copyright he got was for a "COMPUTER PROGRAM FOR Electronic Mail System", which suggests that "EMAIL" was a program that implemented, err, umm, email. []

    He als says "Every software system needs a User's Manual, so did the world's first E-MAIL system. At that time, Shiva was everything on the project: software engineer, network manager, project manager, architect, quality assurance AND technical writer.", so maybe "the world's first E-MAIL system" was the first system that "handled it all" - ARPANET e-mail involved different mail user agents and mail transfer agents on different operating systems, so there wasn't a single "COMPUTER PROGRAM FOR Electronic Mail System".

    Or not. A historical overview of the CTSS system, from its fiftieth anniversary [], quotes Tom Van Vleck (also cited in another posting []):

    Electronic Mail. Noel Morris and I wrote a command, suggested by Glenda Schroeder and Louis Pouzin, called MAIL, which allowed users to send text messages to each other; this was one of the earliest electronic mail facilities.[11] (I am told that the Q-32 system also had a MAIL command in 1965.)

    Reference 11 is to Van Vleck's The History of Electronic Mail [] (which mentions the copyrighting of "EMAIL" in a parenthetical note at the top of the page) and Errol Morris's New York Times Opinionator blog post "Did My Brother Invent E-Mail With Tom Van Vleck?" (my head asplode when I learned that Errol Morris was Noel Morris' brother). []

    The news article he cites [] says he "created an electronic mail system", which may well be the case. It doesn't say he created the first electronic mail system, and "created an electronic mail system" suggests that the notion of an "electronic mail system" wasn't a Shiny New Idea (and, in fact, it wasn't).

    And, in fact, the article to which the "to defend his standing as email's creator" link takes you [] quotes him as saying "I did not claim that I created electronic communications," so at least give him credit for that.

  • Re:Good point. (Score:4, Informative)

    by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:20PM (#39142945) Homepage

    Wow, this self-important wanker even has []. The Boston interview [] seems to state his weak-ass case the best. When faced with Tomlinson's 1971 record, he says that isn't really e-mail. Apparently he thinks that some subset of having folders or blind carbon copy are somehow amazing innovations, the things that made his work modern e-mail while earlier ones were not. Whatever.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:35PM (#39143037) Homepage

    Here's Popular Science from September 1980 [], though unfortunately they don't call it "email" -- they abbreviate it "EM."

  • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:41PM (#39143521) Journal

    BCC was present in RFC680, from 1975. The Unix V6 mail program didn't explicitly have mail folders, but from what I can tell of the man page for the Unix V6 mail command ( [] ), the notion that mail could stored somewhere other than the .mail file in the home directory did exist in 1975. The Unix V7 mail command (you can find its man page at [] on page 112) most certainly does support saving mail to multiple mailbox files (and what is an mbox file but a bloody folder, which is essentially what Thunderbird still uses with an additional index file). It's that basic multiple mbox structure that programs like Elm and Pine would ultimately build on top of. MH [] that appears to be from around 1979 also handles multiple mail folders.

    So no, the guy didn't invent bcc or multiple mail folders either. He didn't invent the first GUI mail system, which was probably Xerox's Laurel.

    The guy is a liar.

  • Re:Good point. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rary ( 566291 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:41PM (#39143523)

    He is playing a ridiculous semantic game. If you look at his website, he never claims to have invented "email". He claims only to have invented "EMAIL", which is technically correct, in that he did create a program called "EMAIL". He even goes so far as to admit that the word "email" was in use previously, but that he was the first to use the word "EMAIL".

    He's a tool, and his website makes it obvious.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:50PM (#39143591) Homepage

    The real beginning of email, in the sense of fully automatic message switching, was "Western Union Plan 55-A" [], introduced in 1948 and shut down in 1976. Imagine Sendmail, with paper tape punches and readers with bins between them as the buffers. Such systems handled most telegrams in the US for over 25 years.

    There were message switching systems before that, but Plan 55-A was the first one that could forward a message from source to destination without human intervention at the switching points. It could even handle messages with multiple destination addresses.

    Before that, there were teletypewriter exchanges, but they involved dialing up a connection directly between sender and receiver. They were basically telephone switches repurposed for teletypes. That's what TWX and Telex were. Those were automatic dial back to the early 1930s.

  • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday February 24, 2012 @04:47AM (#39145057)

    doesn't anyone remember bang paths?

    What a nightmare. Like posting a letter and having to tell the post office what to do with it: "Take it from the postbox to the Bradford sorting office centre. From the Bradford sorting office take it to the Leeds regional centre. From the Leeds Regional centre send it to the London Regional centre. From the London regional centre take it to the Sunbury sorting office. Take it from the Sunbury sorting office to 12 bog-trotter terrace".

    And to think we actually used that!

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley