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.

In the wake of the ruling, the World Wide Web Consortium held an ad-hoc meeting on the patent and later set up a Patent Advisory Group to investigate the issue.

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.

#29 Re: Netscape vulnerability

by MarkHB

Tuesday October 7th, 2003 6:46 PM

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I've got to wonder... given the timeframe in which this patent was granted, it seems plausible to me that NSCP might have licensed it, especially if Eolas came to them during the 2.0 development cycle while Barksdale & Co. were rolling in those record-setting IPO dollars. Microsoft didn't have a browser at that point -- Spyglass Mosaic, rebranded as IE 1.0 (check "About Internet Explorer" sometime), shipped as part of the Win95 Plus! package in August '95 -- so this patent might have slipped by them or been blown off in the rush towards IE 4. But, Netscape might have licensed it, and that license may still be valid, and in the hands of either TW or