September 19, 2003 4:42 PM PDT

Eolas says it would settle over IE

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In response to newly revealed details of Microsoft's potential plans to redesign its browser, Eolas founder Mike Doyle urged the software giant to leave Internet Explorer alone and pay his company a license fee instead.

Doyle, whose company's patent suit led to a federal district court's $521 million judgment against Microsoft, made his remarks to counter growing perception in the software industry that he is an ideologically driven crusader unwilling to settle with Microsoft at any cost.

"Microsoft has been representing to the world that they have no choice but to remove technology from the browser and disrupt the Internet," Doyle said in an interview Friday. "And I want to make it very clear that that is not the case. Microsoft has had in its power the ability to settle this case, and to the extent that they're refusing to settle, it's their decision."

Since Eolas' victory at trial last month, the Web software industry has been consumed with speculation and planning on how to live with the patent, should it survive Microsoft's promised appeal.

At a meeting at the San Francisco headquarters of Macromedia--maker of the ubiquitous Flash animation software that relies on IE's plug-in capabilities to survive--Microsoft outlined several possible technical work-arounds it was considering for the browser.

People fear those options would, as Doyle suggested, disrupt the Internet by forcing many thousands of Web sites to be rewritten, or to abandon plug-ins altogether.

Doyle himself may bear some responsibility for the perception that Eolas is not amenable to a settlement. In remarks to the press, he has raised the possibility that Eolas could simply refuse to license Microsoft the patented ability to run plug-in applications, while granting those licenses to other browsers or producing a browser of its own.

On Friday, Doyle distanced himself from those remarks, calling them hypothetical.

"I was talking more from the point of view of if someone acquired Eolas," Doyle said. "That company would have all the powers available to them under the patent laws. I also described it as a hypothetical situation among many possible scenarios. I think they may have grasped upon that particular argument and cast it in that light because they may see it to their advantage to build FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) within the industry."

Jan Conlin, an attorney who represented Eolas at trial, reiterated Doyle's position that Eolas was open to a settlement.

"Microsoft and the Web community and consumers would be better off by Microsoft accepting the fact that this patent exists and paying for their fair use of it," said Conlin in an interview. "Microsoft does have the opportunity to settle this for a paid-up license. Microsoft has the opportunity to put this thing to bed now."

Microsoft responded that, while it always looked at "reasonable" ways to settle ongoing litigation, the Eolas patent and demands did not fall under that definition.

"We've often taken a license when it makes sense and that technology brings value to our products," said Jim Desler, a Microsoft representative. "But in this particular case we believe the patent is invalid, there was no infringement, we like our prospects on appeal, and we will certainly not pay for technology on the terms they're seeking."

 

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