Microsoft Details Changes to Internet Explorer in Wake of Eolas Suit, Mozilla Foundation Issues Statement
Tuesday October 7th, 2003
In August, Microsoft lost a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Eolas Technologies Inc., a spinoff of the University of California. The jury in the case decided that Microsoft's support for ActiveX controls, plug-ins and Java applets in its Internet Explorer browser infringes on United States Patent 5,838,906, owned by the University of California and licensed to Eolas in 1994. Microsoft was ordered to pay $521 million to Eolas and the University and also change the way Internet Explorer works. The software giant is appealing.
Yesterday, Microsoft published some documents outlining the changes it will make to Internet Explorer to stop the program from infringing on the patent. These changes — which essentially amount to forcing the user to press an OK button before loading each ActiveX control — are accompanied by some steps that Web developers can take to allow their controls to continue working normally. These include providing any data required by controls inline (the patent only covers plug-in—like technologies that access external data) or creating controls using a script. Apple has supplied similar guidelines for avoiding the changes when embedding QuickTime movies, Macromedia has some advice for sites that use Flash, Shockwave or Authorware and RealNetworks is providing information for those who embed RealMedia presentations in their pages.
The Mozilla Foundation also issued a statement on the Eolas patent yesterday. Noting that the "matter highlights the degree to which web browser software is critical to the user experience of the web," Mitchell Baker assures Web developers that the changes proposed by Microsoft and others should be backwards-compatible with all current and future Mozilla browsers. To the best of our knowledge, Mozilla's plug-in implementation will not have to be changed as the ruling only applies to Microsoft. It is not yet known whether Eolas plans to take action against the Mozilla Foundation.
Thanks to everyone who has sent us information about this issue over the last few weeks.
Does anyone else feel slightly dirty for actually supporting Microsoft in this matter? I mean, Microsoft's argument here is probably 100% true, even though Eolas' case could very well be a jump-start for other browsers (the CEO and sole employee of Eolas said breaking Microsoft's Web dominance was a chief goal). Clearly, plugins were already thought of before Eolas' patent, as Netscape had them within months after this patent was granted, and there's no way the architecture (which was completely new and unknown at that time) could have come together in a few short months.
In any case, I doubt Mozilla wants to win because of litigation. Especially one that could be unfairly applied only to Microsoft (if the Eolas guy is telling the truth about trying to break Microsoft).