This week, a US District Court judge upheld a jury verdict against Microsoft that required the company to pay $520 million plus $45 million in interest for violating a controversial Eolas Technologies Web browser patent. Microsoft had hoped the court would throw out or elect to retry the case, but Judge James B. Zagel ruled yesterday that Microsoft had indeed infringed on the patent. Microsoft says it will appeal.
Although many Microsoft critics would typically celebrate such a ruling, the Eolas trial is sending shock waves around the entire computer industry because of the patent's vagueness and generality. If Eolas ultimately wins its case against Microsoft, no doubt Eolas will sue other Web browser makers, such as AOL, which makes the Netscape browser and backs the Mozilla.org Web browser software suite.
"We're one step closer to the final resolution of this matter," said Eolas Attorney Martin Lueck, who was predictably pleased by the decision. "We feel good about our prospects on appeal and remain steadfast in our belief that the Eolas patent is not valid," a Microsoft spokesperson said yesterday.
In a related development, the US Patent and Trademark Office recently took the unusual step of reconsidering the Eolas patent, and a decision is still pending. The office noted that proof of "prior art" (i.e., software designs that provided the Eolas functionality before the company supposedly invented it) could merit a revocation of the patent. Numerous industry leaders, including those at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), have pointed to obvious cases of prior art, a hopeful sign for most of the industry.