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.

#35 Re: Re: Danger : may this be opportunity for MS instea

by janahan

Wednesday October 8th, 2003 5:15 AM

You are replying to this message

Alex, if you are saying that integrating flash, and other technogies will not avoid this patent, then it will also apply to JPEGS, and other pictures. remember even though these objects are "intregrated" they are still likely to be processed by separate DLL's and according to the W3C specs, shoudl be refered to by the object tags. This would be a real danger indeed if JPEGS, PNG and GIFS were also subject to this patent. So would the "bgsound" attrib that microsoft allows in IE's body tag.

Therefore I am thinking the previous poster was valid to say that integrating the Flash technologies would "solve" the problem. This in turn is bad as it would stiffle any competition. And the end result would be the horror of a MS dominated web. And if anyone tries to pull a monopoly investigation to that, they have the perfect alibi.

Eola is certainly no friend of Microsoft, but they may have unleashed a very bad precedent.