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.

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