Eolas Browser Patent Challenged by US Patent Office

   Bowing to pressure from Microsoft, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and other trade groups, the US Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to reexamine the Eolas Web browser patent that lies at the center of the company's lawsuit against Microsoft. Eolas, you might recall, obtained the exclusive rights to a patent granted to the University of California in 1998 that describes the ways in which a browser can access add-on programs typically called plugins. The patent earned Eolas, a one-man company, a $521 million jury verdict against Microsoft in August, and analysts fear Eolas will set its sights on other browser makers if its Microsoft suit is ultimately successful.
   The W3C provided evidence that it invented plug-in technologies that predate Eolas's patent, a key factor in any patent-revocation attempt. The organization says that Tim Berners-Lee, a W3C director and the inventor of the Web, specified browser plug-in technologies in early drafts of HTML, the markup language behind most Web sites. So on October 30, the US Patent and Trademark Office agreed to examine the evidence and challenge Eolas's patent.
   "A substantial outcry from a widespread segment of the affected industry has essentially raised a question of patentability with respect to \[Eolas's\] patent claims," wrote Stephen Kunin, the US Patent and Trademark Office deputy commissioner for patent examination policy, in his order for patent reexamination. "This creates an extraordinary situation for which a director-ordered examination is an appropriate remedy ... A substantial new question of patentability exists ... in view of prior art."
   Perhaps stung by its many other legal cases, Microsoft has already announced that it's changing Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) to circumvent the patented technology, although the company is still planning to appeal the verdict. The version of IE that ships in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) in early 2004 will handle browser plugins, applets, and ActiveX controls differently from earlier versions, Microsoft said. The company has already given Web developers technical details about the changes so that they can change their Web sites as necessary.

TAGS: Windows 8
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