To Michael Doyle, the recent victory for his company, Eolas Technologies Inc., against Microsoft Corp. in a Web browser patent-infringement lawsuit shouldnt be leading to a re-examination of anything more than Microsoft itself. Doyle, who founded the Chicago company, disagrees with the World Wide Web Consortiums move on Tuesday to create an advisory group to consider whether the $521 million jury verdict in the case will require changes to HTML. Instead, he says Microsoft should settle the case, and the Web community should encourage the software giant to do so.
In an interview with eWEEK.com reporter Matt Hicks, Doyle shared his opinions on the largely negative reaction to the patent verdict and explained his intentions behind the patent technology, the lawsuit and licensing.
eWEEK.com: What is your overall response to the W3Cs step? Was that something you had expected? Had you ever really expected HTML being affected by your patent?
Doyle: Our basic position is that we would like to see the technology continue to be used, and we would like to see Microsoft buy a paid-up license. … Microsoft could settle this case today with a fully paid-up license, and that would defuse the issue for everybody.
eWEEK.com: Has Microsoft even been willing to discuss a settlement, or have you brought that up with them?
Doyle: I cant go into specific discussions, but clearly that balls in their court right now.
(Editors note: Microsoft officials have repeatedly said that the patent case has no merit and, therefore, the company will not consider licensing the technology. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft plans to appeal the verdict.)
eWEEK.com: If Microsoft were actually to settle and pay up for a license, how would that necessarily defuse issues of whether HTML, for instance, calls out embedded applications, or if other browsers do the same thing?
Doyle: In general, were willing to license the technology on fair and reasonable terms. Were interested in talking with whoever would like to discuss their products with us, and I think the main reason this has become an issue is because MS has made statements about removing the technology from their browser, which therefore removes it from most desktops. … The discussions that have happened have been driven by Microsofts attempt to avoid royalties rather than the best interests of Web users or especially rather than the best interests of Microsofts own competitors.
eWEEK.com: Are you and your company making any efforts to reach out to other browser companies or other manufacturers of software that might play a role with this patent to discuss what actual licensing terms might be? Is there an actual program for doing this?
Doyle: I cant discuss any specific discussions were having, but in general were open to talking to anybody whod like to discuss the use of this technology.
eWEEK.com: Can you say whether youve actually had any of those discussions so far?
Doyle: Yes, were currently having discussions of that nature, but I cant mention [with whom] or what. …
eWEEK.com: Obviously, when theres a software product, theres usually a set of formal terms for licensing. Has that come to be yet?
Doyle: … We have some general guidelines that were working on. Our objective is to increase competition in the industry in this space and broaden the market for people that want to develop applications to run on the browser Web platform.
Next page: What inspired Eolas campaign?
Behind the Microsoft Suit
eWEEK.com: What really led the drive to take on Microsoft with this patent? Was there a more fundamental issue?
Doyle: They occupied more than 95 percent of the market for this technology, and, therefore, its impossible for anyone to compete. … Without a software patent, small players have little chance to compete with a company that has the kind of market dominance and market power that a Microsoft has.
eWEEK.com: Did you expect that people would be this concerned about the impact on them—Web developers in particular?
Doyle: This impact issue is purely a result of Microsofts decision to refuse to pay the royalties required for the fair use of our technology in their products. Its totally up to them to settle this. They can settle it for a fully paid-up license, the amount of the jury verdict plus interest. So I think their statements about having to create changes that will disrupt the Internet are disingenuous.
The dismay that their competitors are exhibiting should be a clue as to what their real objectives most likely are. Clearly theyre trying to solidify their control over Web technologies. Our technology opens up the browser platform to competition. Thats what the intention was all along from the very beginning. It turns the browser into a platform that others can build upon without having to have the browser manufacturer redesign the browser each time someone wants to add something to the platform. It opened up a whole new field of competition, and Microsoft now appears to be trying to close down that field of competition.
eWEEK.com: Youre saying it would open up [competition] because the actual technology for embedded objects to call out other applications would be in the control of individuals companies rather than the browser itself?
Doyle: Thats right. The technology as it exists today allows third-party companies to create applications that run on a browser platform without having to have a new version of the browser created each time that happens. And when Microsoft is now proposing to build in technologies into the browser itself supposedly to avoid paying royalties, [it] creates a certain small group of technologies that are suddenly anointed by Microsoft to be the standards that get forced upon their end users.
The intent from the very beginning of our technology allowed the browser to act as a platform in the same way that an operating system acts as a platform in developing applications. Each time someone builds a new Windows application, you dont have to redesign Windows. Imagine if there was only one Word processor that could run under Windows; what would that do to the various open-source projects?
eWEEK.com: If Im a Web developer … why would I only be able to run an application if the browser itself has to be updated each time?
Doyle: For example, lets say you have your preferred file format. Lets say its an MPEG-4 movie, and you create MPEG-4 movies and content that runs in that form. If Microsoft builds into the browser itself a handler for MPEG-4 movies, then youre stuck with Windows Media Player. Today, you have the choice. … Our technology was intended to empower the Web page author—to control to the maximum extent possible the interactive experience of the user. What Microsoft appears to be proposing … is to build all this stuff into one monolithic browser. One consequence of this is it removes control from the Web page author. … Part of the idea was with our technology, you could add any kind of file-format capability to a browser without having to have the cooperation of the browser maker.
(Editors note: Microsoft officials have not provided details on any changes to Internet Explorer, but have said that if any are made they will be minor and have a minimal impact on users. Officials have said the company should have details about any changes within the next month or so.)
Next page: How much will Eolas license cost?
How Much Will It
eWEEK.com: What would you say to Web developers [or those few competing browser makers out there] who are concerned theyll have to purchase some sort of an expensive license to be able to do this?
Doyle: I think the key word there is “expensive.” … We have from the beginning had a general policy of providing non-commercial users royalty-free licenses. We expect to be paid for the commercial use of our technologies.
We released our browser back in 1995 to the world free for non-commercial use, so that should be an indicator to people that the open-source community shouldnt have anything to fear from us. The extent that those products are used commercially by others or resold commercially, sure we expect to be talking to people who are making money through the use of that technology.
On the other hand, were talking about very fair and reasonable amounts. Our objective is to increase competitiveness in the marketplace, not to decrease it.
eWEEK.com: [With] the browser you had released, the actual embedding technology in this patent, that was just one element of it, I would guess?
Doyle: Yes … that browser had a lot of cool things to it.
eWEEK.com: What was that browser called?
Doyle: WebRouser, sort of a play on words. The idea was—wake up the Web.
eWEEK.com: Before this lawsuit, you had been looking at entering the browser market. Even back then, did you have difficulties because of Microsofts dominance?
Doyle: We were focusing on trying to get the patent through the patent office, and by the time we had accomplished that, we looked around and saw that Microsoft had occupied the marketplace. … If you look at the trial testimony, you will see that experts in the trial testified that Microsoft used our technology as the main tool to beat Netscape and basically kill the threat that they saw Netscape posed to the Windows operating system.
They also testified that the threat Microsoft saw in Netscape was its ability through the use of our technology to provide an application platform through the browser, through plug-ins and applets.
eWEEK.com: But had you worked with Netscape before that, or was this independent?
Doyle: We were focused on getting the patent through the patent office at that point in time. … We had demonstrated our technology widely in 93 and 94, and all the players saw it then.
eWEEK.com: And they knew at that point that a patent would be sought on it?
Doyle: … In August of 95, we announced to the world that Eolas had just acquired a license to the patent from the University [of California]. So from that point on, everybody knew that a patent was out there pending that related to this technology. They had the opportunity even then to talk to us, and they chose not to. So when you hear people today about us springing this kind of thing on everybody, that just isnt true.
eWEEK.com: Was there anything I didnt cover that you wanted to make clear? As you said with W3C and HTML specifically, you dont expect to be invited and you havent been. Doyle: There isnt a need for that activity to be happening. What they ought to be doing is saying to Microsoft, “Why arent you talking to them about taking this license?” … Theyre asking the industry, for example, to do billions upon billions of dollars of re-engineering. Just think of all the Fortune 1000 information systems built entirely upon ActiveX technology and Web pages. The companies that have sunk that money into developing those in-house systems are now being asked to re-engineer all that, and why? Because Microsoft doesnt want to pay an amount thats equivalent to what were talking about in terms of past damages. The industry seems to be playing right into their hands in this.