Remember WASTE, the private, encrypted file sharing and instant messaging software Winamp founder Justin Frankel published in May 2003? WASTE was supposedly released as free software, but AOL wasn't too pleased with this idea and removed the project promptly, only to replace it with some harsh corporate warnings about "unauthorized software". End of story. Right?

Well, not really. Of course a bunch websites started mirroring WASTE, and some folks even continued development for a while. The WASTE community has gotten a little quiet lately, but there is still quite a few folks out there who use the software regularly.

AOL apparently hasn't really given up on WASTE either. A well known patent law firm filed a patent application for a "method and apparatus for secure distributed collaboration and communication" just two months after AOL forced Nullsoft to remove WASTE from it's website.

waste patent 1

Here's a quote from the application:

"The invention comprises a system that permits secure distributed collaboration and communications for small trusted groups of people. The presently preferred embodiment of the invention allows users to communicate and transfer information easily and effortlessly. The invention requires very little administration, and no central server or central administration is required."

The application is very specific to WASTE, describing the encryption model of the application in detail. It doesn't refer to WASTE by it's name, but the images supporting the application clearly show a screenshot of the software. It also mentions Justin Frankel as the inventor.

waste patent 2

Now how does AOL fit into all of this? The application doesn't assign the patent to the company, but the patent lawyers who did the filing has previously been used by AOL. So it's not a big surprise that the apllication's attorney docket number - which is some kind of unique identifier patent lawyers use to easily relate patent applications to their clients - reads AOL0107.

It's safe to assume that Frankel's contract with AOL didn't only give the company the rights to all the software he produced while working for them, but also all other forms of related intellectual property, including patents. This means that AOL might some day be the proud owner of a patent for WASTE.

Other companies in the personal P2P space might want to take notice.

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