December 2, 2005 2:00 PM PST

Microsoft tweaks browser to avoid liability

Microsoft is changing the way its Web browser handles certain controls in an effort to shield itself from liability in an ongoing patent spat with a start-up backed by the University of California.

The software giant is notifying Web developers and other partners on Friday that it is changing the way Internet Explorer handles certain Web programs, known as ActiveX controls and Java applets.

With the change, Web developers will need to slightly modify their pages or consumers will have to make an extra click to get to some content, such as for a Macromedia Flash-based advertisement.

"We think that the user experience impact is relatively modest," said Michael Wallent, a general manager in Microsoft's Windows-client unit.

Microsoft will incorporate the new version of Internet Explorer into all new copies of Windows and also into the next version of the browser, IE 7, which will be available for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and as part of Windows Vista. Existing users may also get the new code as part of future security updates, Wallent said.

"We believe over the next six months, most customers will be running copies of Internet Explorer with this behavior."

Microsoft has been in a long-running spat with Eolas Techologies and the University of California. In September, the U.S. Patent Office upheld the validity of the patent at issue in the case.

A University of California spokesman said that its lawsuit against Microsoft deals with infringement caused by previously sold versions of the browser.

"The lawsuit covers sales predating this latest reconfiguration," he said.

In 2003, a jury awarded more than $500 million in damages to the university and Eolas, but Microsoft appealed the decision. An appeals court this year partially upheld Microsoft's stance, saying the company should be allowed to present evidence that similar inventions predated Eolas' patent application.

"We believe this change insulates us from any potential liability," Wallent said. "We don't expect we will have to make any other changes.

Wallent said that the move was designed to end uncertainty for the future as the Eolas case heads back to court later this year.

"With this change we are very confident that we would no longer have liability even if the case doesn't go our way in the end," he said.

Wallent added that Microsoft's move "in no way reflects a lack of confidence in our case."

"We'll continue to pursue our case and believe that the Eolas patent is invalid," he said.

17 comments

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Posted by ProfessorDino (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh well!
Oh well, that's what you get when you have a non standards compliant browser! Looks like all those IE6 only!, Federal Government Sites, are in for a total rewrite , in order to meet the basic standards compliancy or else everyone is locked out, after the next MS$ IE6 update! Back to the drawing board, let the stupidity and irrational decision continue to emerge from the Patent Office on a daily basis, curse us all!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Think Open Source
Just use Firefox & forget Micro$oft for web stuff.
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Link Flag
All this patent BS is getting out of hand.
A lot of this patent BS that is been going on lately really seems to be getting out of hand. Most people couldn't care less how their webbrowsers handle active X controls, how Blackberries do email or what happens when you single click something to make a purchase. (They still have to pay the bill) Many of these so called "patent holders" really need to get a life.
Posted by Mallardd (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I do!
I don't want my browser to parse ActiveX or for that matter Macromedia Flash, Java etc. code at all. All of them are nothing more than a constant source of security risks. Advertising, popups, drive by installation of malicious programs, spyware, adware, rootkits, viruses, tojans etc. use these avenues to sneak into our computers. All of them have had within the last month a plethora of problems requiring updates or have needed action to disable various aspects. This is a constant, never ending, ongoing problem, whose only solution is to disable forever every one of them.
Posted by Muddleme (99 comments )
Link Flag
Extremist Anti-Establishment Attitudes
Look at the comments people who jump out here to post first...

Patent system = bad
Microsoft = bad
Open-Source = savior
Standards = savior

News flash: The patent system is in place for good reasons and provides unequaled value to our economy. It IS NOT going away. Get over it.

Secondly, open-source is NOT a solution to this problem at all. And neither are standards, whether they be open or closed.

Even open-source software that complies with standards can infringe upon a patent. Linus Torvalds' position encouraging developers NOT to do due diligence actually increases the chances that this did/can/will happen.

Standards, open-source, and patent law have a danger that must be addressed. Try to comprehend:

If a standard is established, and then an open-source project implements that standard in a useful and reusable way, it will become a very popular package. It will be reused and incorporated into dozens, hundreds, or thousands of open-source projects that could be distributed to millions of users.

If it is later discovered that the original code violates an existing patent or even copyright, then every distributed copy is in violation of the law. Furthermore, because of the nature of open-source, no one company is liable for damages. Instead, each and every single user of the open-source, standards-compliant software can be sued directly by the patent holder.

The solution is simple. When you invent something, whether it is created in metal and wood or your favorite programming language, it is YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to determine that it is unique and original BEFORE you declare it your unique invention and distribute it throughout the world. Anything less than proper due diligence may very likely turn you into a criminal.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Due diligence required by USPO as well...
"The solution is simple. When you invent something, whether it is created in metal and wood or your favorite programming language, it is YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to determine that it is unique and original BEFORE you declare it your unique invention and distribute it throughout the world. Anything less than proper due diligence may very likely turn you into a criminal."

isn't that the same due diligence that the US patent office fails to apply so often?

my understanding of the EOLAS patent is that there is clearly demostrable prior art and as such the patent is flaky...

when the patent office checks that an invention truly is unique and original before granting a patent then and only then will I agree with you.

;o)
Posted by boldfish (1 comment )
Link Flag
Which means: stop programming or creating NOW
"it is YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to determine that it is unique and original BEFORE you declare it your unique invention and distribute it throughout the world."

This is simply _impossible_. How do you propose to do that? Patents are very difficult to understand and there are tons of them in addition to prior art, so you suggest reading something like 100 britannica encyclopedies to double check every idea?

Congratulation, you just killed EVERY single creative job on earth.

That should just show you WHY it cannot work.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
oh yeah?
Hahaha

Just wait and see what China does, where they just do not have such an idiotic affection for the intellectual "property". All you will be able to do is to prohibit sales in the US, but do not worry- soon their internal market will be large enough, so it will be just your loss if you won't allow selling lenovo thinkpads here for example because of some local patent troll.

Software patents should be abandoned, otherwise it is making US economy less competitive.
Posted by alecm3 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Not just an IE problem
Eolas went after MS first because that's where the money is. Other browsers including Firefox and Opera use the same technique, they just haven't been targeted yet by Eolas. Even those who hate MS should be cheering them on in this particular case because it's not even limited to browsers either.

My opinion is that this patent is invalid because it fails the "obvious" test. What they've patented is an obvious extension.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ActiveX Problem Solved...
I am using Object Activator to re-activate my objects. It's fast and easy:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.orontesprojects.com/objectactivator.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.orontesprojects.com/objectactivator.htm</a>

Erik
Posted by webmaniak (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Terrible Program
I tried this program and its fine if you have small pages with no other coding. This program does not work well with other scripts.
Posted by lccsweb (1 comment )
Link Flag
 

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