RealTime IT News

Victory For Microsoft in Browser Plug-In Appeal

Microsoft said an appeals court decision that sends a browser patent dispute over ActiveX controls and browser plug-ins back to a lower court is a victory not only for the company, but for Internet users, as well.

The appeal decision comes as the U.S. Patent Office is in the process of re-examining the Eolas patent.

"We have maintained throughout this process that the Eolas patent is not valid, and today's ruling is a clear affirmation of our position," the company said in a statement Wednesday after the court ruling.

"The potential enforcement of the Eolas patent further created confusion that could have impacted the use of the World Wide Web. This concern was shared by others in the industry -- including the W3C -- who have also maintained that the patent is invalid and have requested a re-examination by the U.S. Patent Office."

Eolas, a spin-off from the University of California, sued Microsoft in February 1999 for patent infringement related to the way the Internet Explorer browser handles media and plug-ins within Web pages. Eolas' patent No. 5,838,906 was granted on Nov. 17, 1998. It covers the technique of embedding small interactive programs, including plug-ins, applets, scriptlets or ActiveX controls, into Web pages.

In August 2003, a Chicago jury ordered Microsoft to pay $521 million to the University of California and Eolas Technology.

The decision by a U.S. Circuit Court effectively overturns a lower-court ruling that the ActiveX technology used in Internet Explorer infringes on a patent. The ruling raised concerns over the prospect that Microsoft might have to alter its dominant IE browser, a move that could cripple a wide variety of common Web applications, such as online ads that depend on Macromedia Flash technology.

Prior to today's ruling, Microsoft had lost twice in the suit, once in a jury trial and once on appeal. But in this case, it asked the U.S. District court to overturn the $521 million judgment and injunction against distribution of Internet Explorer.

Microsoft said the latest ruling would give it the opportunity to tell the jury the whole story of how this technology was developed "and to present evidence that shows that Eolas did not invent this technology, and that it was developed by others, particularly Pei-yuan Wei and his colleagues at O'Reilly and Associates."

"They are the true pioneers of this technology. The ruling also gives Microsoft the opportunity to present evidence that Eolas knowingly withheld information about Wei's invention to the Patent Office.

Today's victory reinforces the strength of our position in patent litigation. We look forward to the next steps in this process and the opportunity to present our whole case on this matter."

More to follow.