Browser Suit Spurs Microsoft to Change IE

Microsoft is planning to alter its market-leading Web browser as a result of a recent $521 million browser-patent verdict against it.

Microsoft Corp. is planning to alter its market-leading Internet Explorer Web browser as a result of a recent $521 million browser-patent verdict against it.

"Microsoft has indicated to W3C [Worldwide Web Consortium] that they will very soon be making changes to its Internet Explorer browser software in response to this ruling," wrote W3C Chief Operating Officer Steven R. Bratt in a notice posted on the Web standards bodys Web site. The changes could affect "a large number of existing Web pages," he wrote.

Earlier this month, a federal jury in Chicago ruled in favor of Eolas Technologies Inc. and the University of California, which claimed that Microsoft infringed on their patent for technology that allows interactive applications such as "plug-ins" and "applets" to be embedded in Web pages.

Asked about the W3C report of IE changes, Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said, "I wouldnt dispute that, but its premature to talk about specifics of what these changes might entail."

"We are evaluating our options and may take precautionary steps in response to ruling," Desler said. "As were doing that were reaching out to the industry and relevant standards body…for their input on any changes we may make."

Desler said any changes the company may make depend largely on the outcome of the continuing legal process in the case. Aside from the jury verdict, a federal judge still must decide on a counterclaim from Microsoft that there was "prior art" and that Eolas knew of advances in the browser technology before filing a patent, Desler said. Microsoft has said it plans to appeal the verdict, a process legal experts say could take 18 months.

The W3C held a meeting last week in San Francisco with its members and interested commercial and open-source software developers to consider how the browser-patent verdict against Microsoft might affect browsers, authoring tools and Web sites. Microsoft officials presented "several options" it is considering, the W3C posting said.

The W3C has not received indications from other Web tools vendors about what actions they may take as a result of the ruling, nor has it received a reply from the patent holders about their future intentions, Bratt wrote in the notice.

More than 50 people attended the W3C meeting, which was organized after Microsoft officials asked the W3C to help convene members to discuss the ramifications of the verdict, said W3C spokeswoman Janet Daly.

"In addition to listening to what Microsoft is mulling over, members said that this is matter that as we discover more, information needs to be made available to broadest possible audience," Daly said.

As a result, the W3C has created a mailing list for public discussion of the Eolas cases impact and is preparing a set of answers to frequently asked questions for the public.