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.

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