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RealTime IT News

USPTO Close to Rejecting Plug-in Patent

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) moved a step closer to overturning a Web browser plug-in patent at the heart of a multi-million dollar dispute between Microsoft and Eolas Technologies.

USPTO spokeswoman Brigid Quinn confirmed a second preliminary office action on the controversial U.S. Patent 5,838,906 was sent to Eolas rejecting all 10 claims under reexamination.

Quinn declined to provide specifics of the notice, which patent examiner Andrew Caldwell sent to Eolas.

Caldwell's first preliminary ruling, issued in March, also rejected all 10 claims in the Eolas patent.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) requested the patent reexamination on the grounds that prior art existed long before Eolas applied for the patent.

If the patent is completely overturned, it will be a boost to Microsoft's appeal of a jury order that the software giant pay $521 million for using patented technology in its Internet Explorer browser.

In the original lawsuit, filed in February 1999, Eolas claimed as much as $1.2 billion for alleged patent infringement involving plug-in and applet technology. The company accused Microsoft of using its technology in Windows 98, Windows 95 and Internet Explorer programs.

Eolas' patent (US Patent 5,838,906) was granted on November 17, 1998 and covered technologies for the creation of a browser system that allowed for the embedding of small interactive programs, such as plug-ins, applets, scriptlets or ActiveX Controls, into online documents.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said the latest findings by the USPTO is a "positive step" for the industry. "It supports our position that the Eolas patent is invalid," Desler told internetnews.com.

Eolas officials could not be reached for comment.

Changes brought about by enforcement of the '906 patent would likely bring a wide variety of common Web applications to their knees. Online advertisers, marketers, and Web developers have, for example, grown increasingly dependent on Macromedia's Flash technology, which would be virtually hobbled by the changes resulting from the patent enforcement.

Microsoft has already warned that it would change the way Internet Explorer displays embedded content on a Web page and urged Web developers and software firms to create workarounds to avoid disruptions for surfers.