August 29, 2003 1:40 PM PDT

Will Microsoft tweak IE?

Microsoft told the Web's leading standards body that it's considering making changes to its Internet Explorer browser in light of a recent ruling against the company in a patent infringement lawsuit.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) issued a statement Thursday that indicates that Microsoft is mulling its options after a federal court earlier this month found that plug-ins and applets in Internet Explorer (IE) infringed on patents held by Eolas Technologies and the University of California. The software giant was ordered to pay $521 million to the Web technology company and the university.

"In the near term, Microsoft has indicated to the W3C that they will very soon be making changes to its Internet Explorer browser software in response to this ruling," Steven R. Bratt, chief operating officer of the W3C, said in a statement. "These changes may affect a large number of existing Web pages."

This week, the standards body held an ad hoc meeting for its members, including Microsoft, during which people were asked to offer their opinions regarding any changes the software giant should make to IE. The objective of the meeting was to evaluate potential near-term changes that could be implemented in browsers, authoring tools and Web sites as a result of the court case. Roughly 50 individuals showed up at the meeting in San Francisco, with many others participating via a teleconference call, a W3C representative said.

According to Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler, the company has yet to make any firm decision on how it may alter IE in reaction to the court decision. He said Microsoft is waiting to see what occurs during the ongoing post-trial process, during which a judge will decide what sort of injunction could be imposed on the company, based on the ruling. Desler said Microsoft is preparing to appeal a court injunction, if necessary.

"We still feel there's a chance the judge may recognize Microsoft's claim that Eolas involved itself in inequitable conduct, as we believe Eolas had knowledge of...existing Microsoft technology before submitting its patent application," he said. "This discussion was excluded from the jury trial, and we think it's a powerful argument."

Desler confirmed that Microsoft is considering taking some precautionary steps with IE to bring it into accord with any potential injunction from the courts. At this point, the company is "reaching out to the industry and standards bodies to inform people what our thinking is and to get feedback regarding any possible changes," he said.

Desler said Microsoft is already considering potential workarounds for IE if the company is indeed served with an injunction that it cannot appeal.

 

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