US Patent and Trademark Office Nixes Eolas Browser Plug-in Patent

Friday March 5th, 2004

Reuters is reporting that the US Patent and Trademark Office has invalidated a patent covering browser plug-ins. The patent, jointly held by Eolas Technologies Inc. and the University of California, has been struck down in a preliminary decision, which Eolas has sixty days to respond to. Eolas successfully sued Microsoft for infringing on the patent last year, forcing the software giant to outline drastic changes to Internet Explorer that would severely impact upon the user experience of the Web. MozillaZine reported on the lawsuit and the Mozilla Foundation's response to it last October. Thanks to Zachariah for the news.

#1 Reply

by Racer

Friday March 5th, 2004 11:24 PM

Good. "Forgetting" you have a patent (whether intentional or not) and then waiting until it is pervasively used in the industry only to sue the pants off of anyone with money who uses it 5 years later is just plain stupid.

#2 This is great news

by gateone

Saturday March 6th, 2004 3:22 AM

Hello everyone,

from a web developer point of view, this news is GREAT relief for any web developer. Now, if the entire thing had gone on as it started out, this would have ment: no flash animation smoothly inline your designs, no SVG dynamic graphics, no Real Media or Windows Media clips inline without hitting something like a "OK I want to see it" button, no funky work arounds to get your media content inline with your designs!

Also, it is good to hear that this patent has been invalidated. I think there are some things that simply cannot be patented. Like - to but it brute - the Wheel for example. Guess what kind of chaos it would have caused in the world, if there were a patent on using a wheel.

#3 Re: This is great news

by WeSaySo

Saturday March 6th, 2004 8:08 AM

> no flash animation smoothly inline your designs

And this is bad because...? ;)

#4 Re: This is great news

by WillyWonka

Saturday March 6th, 2004 8:26 AM

It just means that I have to keep installing Flash click to view instead of it coming with the program. :)

#6 Re: This is great news

by bzbarsky

Saturday March 6th, 2004 1:45 PM

Actually, the wheel is _exactly_ the sort of thing that _should_ have been patented if patents had existed at the time. And I'm sure specific wheel designs have been patented since.

Keep in mind that patents are granted for a fixed length of time and once the patent expires the technology is in the public domain. This is vastly preferable to having the technology secret and wasting effort rediscovering it later.

Now if you're saying that things that are obvious should not be patentable, that's true. That's part of the patent process, in fact. But in that case you chose a terrible example -- the wheel is not at all an obvious thing and specific wheel designs targeted at particular uses can be _very_ nonobvious.

Note that "obvious" does not mean "once you see it it's obvious". In my mind a really great idea is precisely the sort of thing that fits into the latter category but not the former one (the wheel is a good example there).

#9 The wheel *is* patented...

by herman

Sunday March 7th, 2004 7:07 AM is the patent for a "circular transportation facilitation device"

copy&paste doesn´t work fine from that document, but follow the link above


(12) GFWNTED INNOVATION PATENT (ll) App (19) AUSTRALIAN PATENT OFFICE ication No. AU 2001100012 A4 (54) Title Circular transportatim facilitation device (51) 7 International Patent Classification(s) l36Ol3 001100 (21) Application No: 2001100012 (22) Application Date: 2001.05.24 (45) Publication Date : 2001.08.02

#10 Re: The wheel *is* patented...

by bzbarsky

Sunday March 7th, 2004 9:26 AM

Since you clearly read the document, you know that this is not a patent in the sense that the Eolas patent is... in particular, it was granted with no examination but has to undergo such if there is an actual attempt to enforce it.

Oh, and I can copy/paste from the PDF just fine.... using the Adobe Acrobat Reader 5 plugin here...

#5 exactly

by smkatz

Saturday March 6th, 2004 10:29 AM

Now that in Internet Explorer, plugins are ActiveX, I don't want plugins to run without my consent. Microsoft asks on every page load currently in order to make it worth your while to enable ActiveX, it asks whether the page uses ActiveX or not.

The lawsuit would have forced them to fix this. I see the pros and cons.. but I think "plugins executing automatically" sounds dangerous.

In Safari, Flash is built-in. It is another format the browser supports, and does not (to the best of my understanding) infringe on Eolas's patents.

Eolas could say --and would I think-- that plugins could not be used if they were not using the Netscape or Mozilla APIs, and give a date for the transition to occur.

ActiveX needs to die for the security of the web, although I am glad it didn't happen by Eolas's hands--history would not have looked upon them favorably.

#7 It's SCO deja vu all over again

by DP3_001

Sunday March 7th, 2004 12:22 AM

The suit Eolas brought against the boys up in Redmond was no different than SCO's suit against the Linux community: Totally baseless & without merit. If the heads of those two companies wanted to make money for their shareholders, they should've done it the normal way, not by blackmail.

#8 Re: It's SCO deja vu all over again

by bzbarsky

Sunday March 7th, 2004 12:36 AM

I recommend doing some reading before saying things.... First of all, there are no Eolas shareholders -- it's a privately held company. Second, the suit against Microsoft was a very straightforward patent case based on a patent granted Eolas by the US Patent Office. SCO has yet to present any evidence that they have a claim of any sort; this was not at all the situation in the Eolas case. Note that the courts agreed 100% with Eolas, because given the fact that they _did_ hold that patent, they _were_ completely within their rights to pursue violators of the patent. Now whether they should have had the patent is anoher story....

Oh, and SCO has not filed suit against "the linux community." They've filed suit against a few companies who were foolish enough to do business with SCO (including IBM). I know it's nice to feel self-important and all, but you'll have to wait till they actually sue you first.

#11 Re: It's SCO deja vu all over again

by jdakula

Sunday March 7th, 2004 11:17 AM

Actually, as best I can tell there is no prior art, and while this may seem "obvious" it's really just that it's a good idea that works so wonderfully you can't imagine that someone else wouldn't have thought of it. And someone else did, they just did it AFTER Eolas had the patent. I think that the Web world might be in a bit of trouble, but from what I've seen, Eolas may actually be in the right on this one.

#12 There's prior art, but...

by leafdigital

Monday March 8th, 2004 2:48 AM

Regardless of that, it's frankly an obvious thing to do - and no, it doesn't just seem that way after the fact.

You cannot patent ideas (uh at least traditionally - I know the US is trying to extend the patent system to patent every possible concept, idea, atom, element, subatomic particle, and so on...) so though, for example, you could patent the wheel, you could not patent the idea of a method for going somewhere more quickly than walking. Similarly, you can patent the telephone, but you can't patent the idea of a machine that lets you talk to somebody else at a distance.

The test for obviousness should be: if you start with the idea (what the object *does* - in the case of a wheel, makes it easy to move things, in the case of Eolas patent, makes it easy to embed software objects in a Web browser), and you ask a qualified professional in the relevant field to come up with possible ways of doing that - do they immediately come up with something that would be covered if the patent was granted?

For example, imagine HTML has just been created and people are playing around with Mosaic - hey cool! you can have gifs on a page! Then somebody comes up with an idea (non-patentable) - ok what if you could put random software programs in the page? Now ask a random developer who's aware of how HTML works, how the technology works... supposing you wanted to carry out that idea, how would you do it?

They know HTML, so they know it means you've got to have a tag on the page... that tag's got to contain some mechanism for identifying either the type of data or the program to be used... then when the browser encounters that tag it will launch the program automatically, running it within the area in the scre- oh right, we're going to need width and height on that tag...

Et voila, the OBJECT tag. Of course, some better design would've been a good idea, but that didn't happen in the real world either :)

It's my belief that the vast majority of software patents fall within this area - if you ask any competent developer to come up with a solution to the same problem, it's likely that they would come up with the 'patented' solution or a similar one. There are only a few that don't, essentially those involving complex mathematical algorithms (such as audio or video compression, or cryptography - and by cryptography I mean the original algorithms, like the RSA patent that expired recently, not the various applications of cryptography to other problems).

This is why software patents should not be granted, or at least not be granted without a very significant review process involving experienced software developers.

EOLAS is a particularly obvious case of predatory patenting (whatever the denials of the company) - more will probably follow and I sincerely hope they'll be shot down as well.

There is indeed no connection with the SCO case, which is a completely different (though equally dishonest) abuse of the law (precisely which law they are attempting to abuse is not even clear, but it's not patent law... uh, I think...)


#13 Re: There's prior art, but...

by danielwang

Monday March 8th, 2004 4:10 AM

> You cannot patent ideas... Sorry, we are talking about laws here. The US Patent code says nothing about inpatentability of "idea" (and what is an "idea", anyway).

> For example, imagine HTML... The patent has to do with interaction between embeded objects and remote resources. It has nothing to do with <html>. I read the patent, and as far as I can tell all of the "claims" seen valid.

> This is why software patents should not be granted, or at least not be granted without a very > significant review process involving experienced software developers. The patent grant process is long and consuming. The people involved (patent agent/lawyer & reviewer) are typically highly trained in the field of the art. I have no idea what you mean by the "significant" part.

#14 Chinese translation

by danielwang

Monday March 8th, 2004 4:14 AM

&#26032;&#32862;&#20013;&#25991;&#32763;&#35695;/Chinese translation of the story:

temporary space. Do not link to it.

#15 Chinese translation

by danielwang

Monday March 8th, 2004 4:15 AM


temporary space. Do not link to it.