Microsoft Scraps IE Changes in Eolas Patent Dispute

 
 
By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-01-29
 
 
 
Microsoft Corp. gave Web developers a reprieve on Thursday, announcing that it had scrapped its plans to modify Internet Explorer this year in response to a patent infringement verdict against it.

Microsoft in October said it would change the way the Web browser and Windows XP handle Web pages that use its ActiveX Controls, its version of an applet. The modified version of IE was expected to be out early this year to overcome the patent dispute at the heart of the $521 million verdict that Eolas Technologies Inc. won in August against Microsoft.

Eolas, of Chicago, holds a license on a patent from the University of California on a method for embedding and invoking interactive applications such as applets and plug-ins in Web browsers.

Microsofts latest change in its IE plans comes after a federal judge earlier this month let the jury verdict stand against Microsoft and granted Eolas a temporary injunction against shipments of IE.

The injunction, though, was put on hold pending the outcome of Microsofts planned appeal of the verdict. The Redmond, Wash., company plans to file an appeal in February, spokesman Jim Desler said.

Despite holding off on the browser modifications for now, Microsofts decision is temporary. Whether it moves forward with IE changes in the future largely depends on the outcome of its appeal and on the results of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reexamination of Eolas patent. Prompted by concerns from the Webs major standards body, the patent office in November began reviewing the patent, No. 5,838,906 (known as 906).

"If circumstances change were going to move ahead with the modest steps," Desler said, noting that Microsoft will consult with partners and customers before any decision is made.

The modified version of IE was set to change the behavior of a wide range of ActiveX Controls, including Macromedia Flash, Apple QuickTime, Real Networks RealOne, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sun Java Virtual Machine and Windows Media Player.

The change would have required Web developers to update the methods used in individual Web pages with ActiveX Controls, or users would have been forced to click their approval on a dialog before the Web browser would load a control, Microsoft had said.

The plans had raised concerns among Web developers about the amount of work involved in updating Web pages to make their site compatible with the changes.

World Wide Web Consortium Director Tim Berners-Lee raised concerns about the effects of the 906 patent on IE in his letter urging the patent and trademark office to reexamine the patent.

To read more about the W3Cs concerns about the patent, click here.

"Although Microsofts proposed redesign covers only a small portion of its entire browser program," Berners-Lee wrote, "it would render millions of Web pages and many products of independent software developers incompatible with Microsofts product."

Rocket Fuel