RealTime IT News

IE Patent Loss Aftershocks Reverberate

The aftershocks of a whopping $521 million patent infringement ruling against Microsoft are beginning to reverberate. Already, there is word the software giant plans to make changes to its flagship Internet Explorer browser as a result.

The expected IE tweaks are a direct response to a jury ruling earlier this month that Microsoft much shell out $521 million to the University of California and Chicago-based Eolas Technology for using patented technology in the world's most widely used browser.

As the ripples from the case start to spread, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has gotten into the act. The W3C led an ad-hoc meeting on August 19 to "evaluate potential near-term changes that might be implemented in browsers, authoring tools, and Web sites as a result of the court case."

The W3C also launched a public discussion list aimed at kick-starting deliberations on technical options to respond to the patent ruling.

The Consortium said it attempted to contact Eolas Technologies to determine its intentions regarding the patents but did not receive a reply. Efforts by internetnews.com to contact the company were also unsuccessful.

Eolas' patent (US Patent 5,838,906) was granted on November 17, 1998 and covers 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.

According to the W3C, the technologies claimed in the patent have potential implications for the world wide web in general, including specifications and guidelines issued by the W3C.

The W3C said Microsoft's changes to the IE browser may affect a large number of existing Web pages and urged the Web community to start considering and contributing to the range of technical options available if the patents are rigidly enforced.

At the ad-hoc meeting in San Francisco earlier this month, the group said there was widespread agreement that a solution to minimize the effects of changes to Web software, Web sites and the user experience was needed.

"Microsoft presented several options that it has under consideration, and benefited from constructive discussion of these options. In addition, the meeting participants strongly supported clear communication on this matter, including establishing a developer Web site and mailing list to coordinate approaches for changes to Web sites and software, and providing early releases of software and documentation," the consortium added.

The W3C said it had not completed any formal analysis of the patent in question or the impact of the federal court opinion. "Those implementing technologies in this arena will have to seek their own legal counsel on particular implementations of W3C Recommendations," the consortium added.

Microsoft has insisted the patent infringement ruling would have "very little if any impact on our customers."

"As an intellectual property company, Microsoft invests heavily in research and development, and is committed to respecting the intellectual property rights of others," the company added.