Microsoft verified yesterday that the company will make what it calls "modest" changes to Windows and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) to meet the requirements of a jury verdict in Eolas Technologies' patent-infringement lawsuit. Eolas sued Microsoft in 1999, claiming that the software giant violated Eolas's broad patents for "embedded program objects" by adding ActiveX controls, Java, and other browser plugins to IE and Windows. The lawsuit could have huge repercussions for other browser makers if Microsoft's expected appeal falls flat. Browsers such as Mozilla, Netscape, Opera, and Safari all use similar means to add plug-in capabilities.
Microsoft says it will finish making the IE and Windows changes by early next year. The company will give documentation to developers who use IE technology to help them modify their applications, Web pages, and browser plugins to work with the new plug-in scheme, which affects all Web pages that use plug-in technologies such as Adobe (formerly Acrobat) Reader, Apple Computer's QuickTime, Macromedia Flash, RealNetworks' RealOne, Windows Media Player (WMP), and all versions of Java.
The Eolas case started quietly; few media outlets even covered the story. But this summer, after failing to get the case thrown out, Microsoft found itself on the receiving end of a jury verdict that required the company to pay Eolas more than $520 million. Microsoft has pledged to appeal the verdict but is proactively making the changes to IE and Windows in case it loses the appeal. "We believe the evidence will ultimately show that there was no infringement of any kind, and that the accused feature in our browser technology was developed by our own engineers based on preexisting Microsoft technology," a Microsoft spokesperson said in early August after a federal court jury delivered its verdict.