September 29, 2005 12:19 PM PDT

Microsoft loses in Eolas patent ruling

Striking a blow to Microsoft, the U.S. Patent Office this week reaffirmed a key Web-browsing patent that the software maker is accused of infringing.

In a decision made public Wednesday, the patent office upheld the validity of a patent held by the University of California and its Eolas Technologies spinoff. In 2003, a jury awarded more than $500 million in damages to the university and Eolas, but an appeals court this year partially upheld Microsoft's appeal, saying the company should be able to present evidence that similar inventions predated Eolas' patent application.

A University of California spokesman said Thursday that the patent office's ruling essentially says that the earlier work should not invalidate the Eolas patent.

"It is the second time that the patent office has thoroughly vetted the patent claim," UC spokesman Trey Davis said. "We're pleased that the ruling confirms our position all along."

Microsoft, meanwhile, expressed displeasure with the decision.

"This is very disappointing news, but we remain committed to seeing this case through to a successful resolution," a Microsoft representative said Thursday.

Eolas and the university filed suit against Microsoft in 1999, alleging that the way Microsoft's Internet Explorer uses plug-ins and applets infringes on an early-1990s patent.

25 comments

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MS caught 'innovating' again?????
.... Maybe, and maybe not ...

Odds are that MS will once more just throw enough money on the
table to make the complaint go away. What;'s $500 million to MS?
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's $500 million?
As a stockholder, it's a lot of money that they shouldn't be throwing away. I bet the school ends up with some fancy new building... the Steven Ballmer Computer Arts Lab or something.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
HEADLINE: Microsoft buys The University of California
renamed to Gates University.
Posted by thecomputerdoc1 (6 comments )
Link Flag
Not just MS
This affects pretty much every browser. MS is just the company with the deepest pockets that got sued.
Posted by JoeF2 (1306 comments )
Reply Link Flag
True
I know Eolas has stated that it would only go after Microsoft, but I wonder if that's true. I also wonder how it will affect the future of the Internet? Will, as Microsoft claimed in the begining, remove all infringing code from IE or will it buy a licences? More over could Microsoft sue Eolas if they choose not to charge other companies for the licence?

I think this opens a big can of worms.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Bad news for everyone
Bad news for Microsoft: The ruling will encourage other patent companies to attack them. 500 million US$ might not be much, but MS can still die from thousands of such wounds.

Bad news for customers: Eventually, they will pay more for Microsoft products.

Bad news for academic researchers: Increasingly often, they won't be allowed to publish their research or collaborate with other universities without permission from their IP department. Innovation will suffer.

Bad news for Apple/Safari, Mozilla/Firefox, Opera: They probably face similar fines, and not all of them can afford to pay.

Why can't american citizens simply get rid of their flawed software patent system, just like europeans did this summer ?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/developer/0,39020387,39222696,00.htm" target="_newWindow">http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/developer/0,39020387,39222696,00.htm</a>
Posted by (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bad news indeed...
"...the patent office's ruling essentially says that the earlier work should not invalidate the Eolas patent."

I thought the earlier work should... I thought... What does this mean?! Can I now file a patent for something that someone else invented? And cross my fingers the patent office approves my application before they learn about the original? Oh... even if they do anyway, I am protected because the patent office will not shame itself to admit they're wrong.

Is this the patent office trying to save its credibility despite an obvious mistake?
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Link Flag
Inventions and innovations will move out of USA soon.
With rulings and software patent system like this I guess more and more and more innovations will originate from Europe and Asia instead of USA. There, others can enhance and improve software and then make it available to much larger audience without warring about one random guy who patented some idea (Which he might not even have come up with). This is stupid that inspite of demonstrating that the Idea predated the patent application, the patent office still upholds the patent.

I also feel that assuming that only one person can come up with the same original idea is not plausible (With Earths population of over 5 Billion) . There have been many instances where teams in two countries have been working on the same thing, come up with the similar solutions without any knowledge of the other.
Posted by SmitaKiran (1 comment )
Link Flag
You clearly don't understand the issues here
This has nothing to do with MS copying someone else's work or interface. This has to do with the obscene patent system currently in place in the US. Anything and everything is patentable, even if it is obvious and currently in use by many companies.

I mean, you only have to look at how people have recently patented things like bra cup sizes, swinging on a swing set, etc to see how ridiculous it has gotten.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mis-post
This was supposed to be a response to "MS caught 'innovating' again?????"

Note to c|net: the placement of the "Reply to Story" and "Reply to Message" links need to be rethought.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Link Flag
After a review...
... your point is generally correct. But the patent existed, for
whatever reason, and MS essentially violated the owner patent
rights. Sure, the Patent Department is an illogical mess, allowing
patents on many non-patentable items - like genes. But that's
another war to fight.

So until the Eolas patent gets thrown out, which seems to be the
proper thing to do, MS is in violation and does face penalties.
The overall uncertainty is why. I commented:

"....... maybe and maybe not........"

And in the meantime, MS is likely to try to buy their way out of
the very negative impact on Internet Explorer.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft will still prevail
The Patent Office is a JOKE to begin with and the review process is always stacked in favor of the Patent Holder. So there there is no way harmed parties can find justice in a Patent Review.

There is also another experimental browser to view MPG movies across a network that predates EOLAS was actually a functional application. Only thing that killed it was limited BPS that made inpraticle to employ at the time.
Posted by Dr. StrangeOne (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Odds stacked in favor of patent owner
By law in the U.S., an issued patent enjoys a presumption of validity. But the presumption doesn't always extend to certain reexamination proceedings, and having been involved in such reexams before the patent office (and having invalidated some patents), I can tell you that the odds are not always stacked in favor of the patent owners. Sometimes a patent owner loses when he probably should have won, sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes it comes out the way it should.
Posted by Musmanno (101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So there is something wrong...
... because everything is sometimes this and sometimes that when in fact the rules should be clear about how it must be... All luck and chance... Cross your fingers all the time...
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Link Flag
Patent isn't really valid
If you click on the patent link in the story, and begin to read the
patent itself, you will begin to realize how vague it is in relativity
to a very diverse industry.

Those of you who know me, or have read my posts, will
recognize I have no love of Microsofts business practices and
over-line behaviour. However, it simply does not apply here.

A lot of fancy words, and dressing things up does not change
the fact that this is SIMPLY another description of binary code
referencing binary code, and data over a network.

Gee. That has been around in a myriad of forms before many of
you were even born. Patent my ass.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
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