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Plugin Patent to Mean Changes in IE? 437

Posted by michael
from the speakeasy-has-spent-two-weeks-without-placing-my-order dept.
hexene writes "The W3C have issued an initial statement on the recent court case of Eolas v. Microsoft in regards to US Patent 5,838,906. The patent relates to the embedding of objects in hypermedia documents, and Microsoft has indicated they will have to make changes to Internet Explorer as a result of the ruling. There may also be far-reaching effects to both other web browser vendors and page authors. Check out the public mailing list to discuss the various issues." See the previous Eolas story for background.
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Plugin Patent to Mean Changes in IE?

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  • You would think... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Distan (122159) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:21AM (#6813061)
    You would think that since intellectual property protection is so important to Microsoft, they would be more cautious about insuring that nothing they shipped infringed any patents instead of continuing to get caught in these embarassing lawsuits.

    • by Talthane (699885) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:23AM (#6813073)
      I think the point is that the software patent system has got to the stage where it's impossible for any company to be sure of that (after all, it's not like Microsoft's legal department is small). Yet another reason to hope against hope that the EU will reject the notion of introducing them here.
      • by Anonym0us Cow Herd (231084) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:31AM (#6813158)
        it's impossible for any company to be sure of that

        That's the way the big players want it. Do you seriously think that there is any software you could possibly write that doesn't infringe on one or patents from IBM, Microsoft, Lucent, etc.

        That way, if you ever sue them, they will countersue for patent infringement. IBM carefully selected four patents that affect all of SCO's products. When IBM gets a preliminary injunction, then SCO will have all of their revenues cut off. Plus expensive patent suits to defend by either (1) proving they don't infringe, or (2) proving the patent is invalid. In either case, IBM could just come up with a fifth or sixth patent infringement to keep the whole expensive patent infringement suits going while keeping SCO's revenue cut off.

        So why didn't IBM file 2000 patent suits instead of only four? So that they don't look like they are gaming the system and fall into disfavor with the judge. (Plus the ability to add the fifth or sixth patent suit later to keep them running sequentially instead of concurrently.)
        • own patents exclusively as a defensive measure. 1) As you said, it gives them amunition in their lawsuits. 2) The more patents you own, the better the chances that your patents will cover any new software that you put on the market 3) They sign cross licensing agreements with each other stating that they won't sue, thus doubling their protection.
          • by Anonym0us Cow Herd (231084) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:02AM (#6813466)
            hey sign cross licensing agreements with each other stating that they won't sue

            This is not what a cross licensing agreement says.

            The typical big company cross licensing arrangement goes like this. Okay, we've settled our dispute. Let's not bring patents into the war. (Like nuclear weapons.) So we will cross license eash other with each other's patents. I now have rights to all of your patents, and you have rights to all of my patents. This forecloses the possibility that you will ever sue me over any of your patents. But you still might sue me because I give you defective copies of Windows because I don't like the way you cozy up to Linux.
    • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross@yah o o .ca> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:24AM (#6813080)
      Excuse me, but I think this is nothing more than a land grab by some greedy "Intellectual Property" company.

      The patent is ridiculous and I hardly see the patent holder writing their own browser or selling their own system. No, they would rather sue some company and make their money that way...

      Sheeshhh...
      • by stephenry (648792) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:41AM (#6813258)
        This isn't the fault of a "greedy IP company" sueing businesses on alledged infringement, it's the fault of the government for allowing such a case to be made in the first place.
        • You are both right (Score:4, Interesting)

          by glenrm (640773) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:44AM (#6814023) Homepage Journal
          It is the fault of a "greedy IP company that is also not making a product" and the government for allowing it to go ahead. Also is there an open source problem here, for instance let us say that MSFT agrees to pay royalites to allow their web browser to continue to work correctly, then the company claims that browsers such as Mozillia must also pay royalities?
          • by Blkdeath (530393) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:23PM (#6815149) Homepage
            Also is there an open source problem here, for instance let us say that MSFT agrees to pay royalites to allow their web browser to continue to work correctly, then the company claims that browsers such as Mozillia must also pay royalities?

            I for one commit to paying upwards of 25% of the purchase price of the Mozilla Web Browser to this upstanding Intellectual Property organization.

      • Sound like anybody else we know [sco.com]? :-P
      • by yintercept (517362) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:46AM (#6813305) Homepage Journal
        hardly see the patent holder writing their own browser or selling their own system

        I agree that this patent seems to be frivolous.

        However, in a world of components, I don't think it is a necessary requirement that a company must be making an end user application to be considered a legitimate entity. There is legitimacy in designing components.

        In some regard, the people making components are in greater need of IP protection than the company that packages and sells systems since they do not have the immediate brand awareness. They are totally at the mercy of the company with the brand name.

        Just because a component is dependent on another work does not mean that it is illegitimate. The fact that the patent system is protecting components is good in this regard; otherwise the companies selling systems would be able to trounce all over the subcontractors that make the components.

        Just because we haven't heard of a company doesn't mean they are not a major player making major contributions.

        • by s20451 (410424) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:18AM (#6814414) Journal
          In fact this is exactly what happens in chip design.

          Twenty years ago, a single company would design netlists, put them together in a chip design, and build the chip.

          Ten years ago, one company would design the netlists and put them together as a chip, and another company would build the chip (in many cases, the chip building company was IBM [ibm.com], which is why they have their fingers in a lot of processors).

          Now, different companies design the netlists, design chips, and build the chips. For example, say you want a high-speed wireless modem. You would buy some netlists from a company that specializes in communication algorithms, put them together on a chip, and ship it off to a manufacturer to build the chip.

          This is a good thing, since it allows companies to specialize, and it speeds the introduction of good technologies to the market -- and it wouldn't happen without strong IP protection.
          • by yintercept (517362) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:38PM (#6816588) Homepage Journal
            Personally, I suspect that if we had a system where a large number of small companies were busily building their components and the IP laws were preventing companies from taking over the market, then /.ers would be cheering on the IP laws. The fact that we have one dominent monopoly essentially controlling the software industry and cutting off opportunities for others, we see only the bad side of IP.

            Basically, Microsoft exists because IBM (fearing antitrust lawsuits) contracted with MS, Intel and others so that different companies would own different parts of the IT puzzle. It was this dynamic landscape with multiple companies involved in the development that created the PC revolution.

            Microsoft shows very clearly that strong antitrust laws are a necessary component of a intellectual property system. Basically, when one company has grown so powerful that no IP exists outside of that company, then the IP system fails.

            Microsoft was made by IBM. Bill Gates turned his attention from reverse engineeting BASIC to reverse engineering Intergallactic Digital Research's DOS because IBM was looking for partners that would create a dynamic business scape in light of anti trust threats.

            If the legal community really wanted to create a working system of IP, then they should start by breaking up Microsoft and the cartels and megalyths that control the music industry.
      • by blakestah (91866) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:50AM (#6814774) Homepage
        Excuse me, but I think this is nothing more than a land grab by some greedy "Intellectual Property" company.

        It isn't a company - it is a person and about 4 lawyers. Some dude wrote this patent 9 years ago, and now he is worth $500 million (at least).

        The patent is ridiculous and I hardly see the patent holder writing their own browser or selling their own system.

        That is pretty much exactly what he wants to do. OF course, he will start with $520 million of Microsoft's money...and work on making an OS through the browser. No one else will be allowed to use bi-directional data flow through a browser until 2015!

        Microsoft will, of course, do their best with a work-around.

        There are probably 100 patents filed for every patent that evolves into an implementation. Maybe 1000. The US PTO is morally bankrupt, and the future of innovation through small inventors is essentially dead. But this case is at least kinda interesting in a soap-opera kinda way.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:28AM (#6813120)
      Note that the patent was filed in 1994, but didn't issue until 1998. In those 4 years MS wouldn't have had any knowledge of the pending patent (unless specifically told). By the time '98 rolled around they'd already had the code in use and probably were unaware of the infringement until sued.

      • by henrygb (668225) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:19PM (#6816374)
        This is the key point on software patents.

        The purpose of the patent system is to reward innovation, by providing a short-term monopoly. The hope is that this will encourage innovation which would not otherwise occur. But the evidence on software seems to suggest that the innovation is likely to be repeated quickly by others who do not know about the original patent, and so the economic benefit of the innovation may not justify the economic loss caused by creating an artificial monopoly. Indeed, if the patent system makes software development more risky, then it may reduce innovation as well as making the use of new products more expensive.

    • by AftanGustur (7715)

      You would think that since intellectual property protection is so important to Microsoft, they would be more cautious about insuring that nothing they shipped infringed any patents instead of continuing to get caught in these embarassing lawsuits.

      The problem is that issuing patents is largely a money making activity for the state. The result is that people can (and have) patented almost every imaginable (and quite a few unimaginable) things.

      When the internet became popular, people rushed to patent e

  • Patents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Goo.cc (687626) * on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:24AM (#6813077)
    Even though this was a loss for Microsoft, I am not happy about that ruling. In my opinion, this shows the harm that patents are doing to the computer industry. I also believe that patents last too long.
    • Re:Patents (Score:5, Interesting)

      by blowdart (31458) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:42AM (#6813270) Homepage

      Well there would be one advantage, no more plugins means no more flash.

      *contented sigh* No more navigation bars, adverts with sound, splash screens

      (Note the W3C meeting was hosted by Macromedia, who probably have more to lose than anyone else)

  • That stinks. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:25AM (#6813086)
    There's this really neat feature that IE has (whie no other browser has) is the ability to save a webpage in 1 file. It puts a base64 attachments before the tag, and self-links all the links.

    If thats what they're talking about, that stinks.
  • by Empiric (675968) * on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:25AM (#6813091) Homepage
    From the W3C statement:

    The implementation can be local or distributed across a network, and is automatically invoked based upon type information in the document or associated with the object's data.

    It seems on initial glance that if this patent holds up, it could be argued to apply to the entire model of MIME types by which browsers invoke different behavior based on type.

    It also seems to directly apply to the notion of having Word launch when clicking on a ".doc" file.

    Couldn't one consider a browser and a word processor to both be "plug-ins" to the operating system? What specifically differentiates a "plug-in" from any other type of application functionality?

    Surely there is massive prior art on this going back at least to the early 80's. This patent is obscene.
    • by Serapth (643581) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:33AM (#6813177)
      Actually thats my biggest complaint about both this, and any other patent lawsuit.

      It needs to be more clearly defined *EXACTLY* what is being patented... these vague patents... or more specifically, a patent without an actual implementation, opens us up to all kinds of useless broadreaching patent lawsuits. In the end, this kinda stuff tends to hurt the consumers more then anyone!

      IMHO, you should not be able to receive a patent unless you have an exact implementation to demonstrate exactly what it is you are patenting. Patents should be almost as specific and exacting as trademarks are.
    • by jez_f (605776) <jeremy@jeremyfrench.co.uk> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:36AM (#6813203) Homepage
      I think if you read on
      .., and there is a control path to the object's implementation to support user interaction with the object..
      Kind of makes it distinct to plugins, even though if you had the rendering for, say, a gif image in a DLL it may also be using the patent idea.
      There is also
      ..where at least some of the object's data is located external to the document..
      So if you had a mime encoded document with all parts encoded within the document weather they neaded a plugin or not it would not be covered
      This is a really bad thing. Basicaly it looks like you shouln't be able to even put a java widget in a web page.
      Now that they have been payed off my M$ I wonder if one of there team of [mony grabbing pigf$$king evil] lawyers will decide to go after web site authors??

      All IMHO IANAL ETC
      • Kind of makes it distinct to plugins, even though if you had the rendering for, say, a gif image in a DLL it may also be using the patent idea.
        Wouldn't the same thing apply to "helper applications" then, which are external programs spawned by the browser? That's been around at least since Netscape 1 (way back in 1994 when the patent was filed) and I think it was in Mosaic before that. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm rooting for Microsoft on the appeal.
    • You could always just read the darn thing [uspto.gov].

      My uninformed opinion (from reading only the abstract) is that the MIME type model is not at risk, because ... "After launching the program object, the user is able to interact with the object as the invention provides for ongoing interprocess communication between the application object (program) and the browser program." Simply launching external programs with a document to load wouldn't seem to fall under this. However, I could see problems if the browser i
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In the days of the steam engine, when the good Mr Watt was busy inventing stuff he found that the concept of a "crank" was already invented and patented. He was able to get around this using the "satellite" gearing system. (one gear obitting a static one).

      My point is that it wasn't "a means of getting circular motion from a reciprocating piston" that was already patented, it was specifically the crank. Software patents seem to have lost this distinction.
  • by nuggz (69912) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:26AM (#6813097) Homepage
    Hypermedia? wtf is that?

    Embedding of stuff, this is obvious.

    I remeber when I had a typewriter, if I wanted a picture, I would glue a photo onto the page.
    Computers allowed you to cut and paste the picture. Later sound, or video.
    What makes the remoteness a differentiating factor?

    This isn't even an issue of software patents, just stupidity.
    Putting payment informaiton into a device, and then with a single click selecting the product is obvious.
    I do it at Amazon.com, a Pop Machine, and a laundrymat, the computer doesn't really make it any difference.
    • by Zocalo (252965) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:39AM (#6813243) Homepage
      Hypermedia? wtf is that?

      "Hypermedia" is what we used to call the often proprietary amalgamation of hypertext and multimedia back before Tim Berners-Lee came along and sorted it all out for us. I don't know about how far back prior art on this goes, but I was quite happily embedding dynamic clocks, calenders and such like in a multi-user hypertext authoring system at Liverpool University in the early 90's. Embedded images, sound and even video was *already* old-hat at this point.

      It was an in-house developed tool called MUCH (Many Users Creating Hypertext) written in the Andrew toolkit (think a forerunner of GTk/Qt) and running on HP-UX, if you were wondering.

  • by Dog and Pony (521538) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:26AM (#6813100)
    If this means the end of overdesigned, shiny and glittery flash sites, and sites that demand IE because they want to use Active X objects etc, then I'm all for it.

    I'm not hostile to new technology and all that, but these technologies are so frequently abused so anything that will lessen it will be a good thing.
    • SVG (Score:3, Interesting)

      My only beef with flash is that (1) it is not a "standard", and (2) implementations are proprietary, and therefore only available or easily available on the right platforms.

      Getting rid of Flash plug ins might give SVG a fighting chance to displace it. (Can someone please provide a link to svg?)

      This might be a motivation for Microsoft geeks to get excited about building a good SVG implementation into IE. I think other browsers (Mozilla?) already are working on this?
    • by Anonym0us Cow Herd (231084) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:42AM (#6813278)
      While I would love to see the demise of Flash in favor of SVG, I would be sad to see Java Applets go away.

      It is good to have a way to run open-ended software in the user's browser, in a sandbox. For example, the VNC viewer is a java applet. But this particular application of applets was not necessarily what was envisioned when applets were first added to web browsers. I'm thinking of useful applications of java applets, not the latest flashing, blinking, twitching, scrolling seizure inducing eye candy.

      Similarly, I don't want to see media players go away. (But I would like to see the demise of proprietary controlled formats.)

      One solution is to link the applet capability and the media player capability directly into the browser. Then you probably don't violate this patent.

      With an open enough Java implementation, Mozilla for instance, could just include the ability to run java applets.

      With an open enough real-player implementation, Mozilla could probably also directly link that code right into the browser.

      In fact, Mozilla, or more generally, Open Source browsers could become the "rich" cousins, while proprietary browsers become the feature poor cousins. This would be very ironic.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:28AM (#6813117)
    In the end there will be nothing done since eveyone has a patent on something and no one else can innovate..
    And that was not the intentions with the patent system.

    In the future everyone and everything is illegal..
  • ActiveX? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ptaff (165113) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:28AM (#6813119) Homepage
    Will these changes finally fix the object tag, which is not only for ActiveX?

    Currently, for any object tag to work in IE, you have to enable ActiveX scripting.

    And will that fix the display-everything-in-every-object-tag bug too? I guess I'm asking for too much here.

    Reminds me of the Netscape4-era when you couldn't use CSS unless javascript was active.
  • golf clap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rot26 (240034) * on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:29AM (#6813132) Homepage Journal
    The patent relates to the embedding of objects in hypermedia documents, and Microsoft has indicated they will have to make changes to Internet Explorer as a result of the ruling. There may also be far-reaching effects to both other web browser vendors and page authors

    All I can say is "it's about friggin time." Plugins are great when they work, but nothing on the internet sucks worse than when they don't. They've also been used as a tool by microsoft to break competing browsers (and OS's) as often as possible, and I'd love to see that simply go away. The only downside that I can think of is that some dynamic and/or media content will have to open in a separate window now. Boo hoo.

    On another note, how will this affect the Microsoft desktop, since they insist that I.E. is an integral part of that which cannot be removed? Are Active-X (and other com-type) components going to be considered "browser plug-ins" when they're run on what Microsoft insists is an integral browser/desktop?
    • oh get real. MS has nothing to do with Shockwave, various fools deciding what is needed to view their site, etc.

      They gave us a pretty damn good browser. It was the rest of the world that flocked to supporting it.
  • What exactly is the thinking behind these juries which award judgements on stupid patents like these? Happens all the time.
    • What exactly is the thinking behind these juries which award judgements on stupid patents like these?

      They could be thinking about their dislike for Microsoft.

      "My daugher's computer with Windows ME is less than two years old, and I had to take it to the shop and pay a huge amount to get Windows fixed. And a bunch of my files were lost."

      They could also be thinking of negative experiences they might have had related to NOT having the right plug in for some favorite web site.

      Just a theory. You a
  • You mean, like the addition of popup blocking and tabbed browsing? ;-)

  • softpatents are evil

    Now, you cant be really sad when it's Microsoft that gets it, but this is just silly. Not to mention extremely expensive for all browser makers, 'cause just wait, these guys arent stopping with MS.... this is also going to effect Opera, Konqueror/Safari and Mozilla.
  • Patent scope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deepchasm (522082) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:31AM (#6813151)

    If the patent covers "mechanisms for embedding objects within distributed hypermedia documents, where at least some of the object's data is located external to the document, and there is a control path to the object's implementation to support user interaction with the object" then does OLE also infringe?

    Is there really no prior art?

    • Re:Patent scope (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Distan (122159)
      This is a simple patent to engineer around. Simply embed all of the content within the document, so that there is no external data whatsoever.

      Yeah, so, the html files will have to get bigger, but it will also solve the problem of all these "steaming only" media files that are flowing around.
    • Re:Patent scope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zocalo (252965) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:51AM (#6813350) Homepage
      Is there really no prior art?

      I can give you an instance of prior art from 1991, three years before this patent was even filed. See my post above [slashdot.org] for more.

    • Re:Patent scope (Score:4, Informative)

      by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:08AM (#6813520) Homepage Journal
      f the patent covers "mechanisms for embedding objects within distributed hypermedia documents, where at least some of the object's data is located external to the document, and there is a control path to the object's implementation to support user interaction with the object" then does OLE also infringe?

      Is there really no prior art?

      It's a long time since I used it, and in a LISP environment, of course, there's really nos such concept as a plugin, but there was analogous functionality in NoteCards [virginia.edu].

      "There are a number of different node types (over forty), supporting various media. Authors may use LISP commands to customize or create entirely new node types."

      I would have thought a NoteCards node type was highly analogous to a mime type, and the 'LISP command' was highly analogous to a plugin.

  • When I read in the article that "embedded" objects that link to data "external to the document", I get the bad feeling that this might apply to java-based front ends for databases. Is that true? Do this make a java app that links to oracle require a license from these guys?
  • by koniosis (657156) <koniosis@hotmaiCOWl.com minus herbivore> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:32AM (#6813170)
    Why do all these companies make such a fuss about these patents, they aren't going to get any money, because if the company has the choice to just alter their software to avoid the patent then they will. All they are doing is slowing development of software and causing incompatabilities around the world. Basically making a mess of the current system which WORKS. How long to US patents last? It seems to long. Patents are forcing software to take steps backwards and not forward, I just hope the companies realise the potential damage they are doing before it becomes too late.
    • What I'm trying to figure out is why the hell the EU is actually considering adopting OUR patent system.

      Do they really want to subject their software industry to the US's HUGE software patent portfolio?
      • I think you have to remember that patents are actually very important, as long as they are used for the right reasons. i.e. A patent for a new toaster design that will revolutionise toasters is a good thing, because it ensures that a new company or a company that has put a lot of investment into a product gets the sales they deserve and someone else can't take their idea and capitalise on their research.

        Obviosuly its good to have patents worldwide so that if an American company designs a product or a Euro
    • Patents are forcing software to take steps backwards and not forward, I just hope the companies realise the potential damage they are doing before it becomes too late.

      The patent holding companies are not going to care if they are making money. The government has to step in, not the companies themselves.

    • On the contrary, I think things like this can lead to something new and innovative instead of just sticking with "what works" as we have for years.

      When you just keep building on old stuff and keeping around what always "has been" and "always worked in the past", I tend to see this stiffel innovation. Being forced back to drawing board to come up with something NEW as a work around can be a good thing, especially for a company like Microsoft that has the $$$ to invest into R&D of something new and r
  • One really has to see the irony here: on the one side, Microsoft utilises and assimilates other peoples technology and property into one of their most important projects without even blinking an eye; and on the other, we have them spending millions "licensing" such "important" technology on extremely dubious reasoning to support SCO, because they "respect the importance of IP rights".

    Now, I know that Microsoft will never be punished in the US, but isn't undermining a competing product, Linux, through unsub
  • between parties:

    Microsoft presented several options that it has under consideration, and benefited from constructive discussion of these options. In addition, the meeting participants strongly supported clear communication on this matter [...]

    This document was written by Steven R Bratt of the W3C... so no rimshots on how he's a sell out - please...

    I think this just might be the beginning of a broader trend (I hope at least)... a trend where Moft starts getting its ass bitten more and more often, and i

  • by ThosLives (686517) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:42AM (#6813272) Journal
    Hey, with all of this patent craziness, why don't we use the "Slashdot Effect" and write our senators or whatever and really start pushing for patent reform in an organized fashion?

    While I think that most of the current patents, especially the business practices ones, are against the original spirit of the Patent/Copyright/Trademark laws, as far as I know most of these patents fail the requirements for patents. I seem to recall the following things being required for a patent:

    1. Useful
    2. Novel
    3. Unobvious to those versed in the applicable art

    While a lot of these patents are useful, I think they pretty much all fail either the Novelness or Unobviousness requirements. I work for a company that patents hinge designs, for crying out loud! I recall the days that a waterbed patent was denied because waterbeds were described in a Heinlein novel. Aren't the patent checkers aware of not just prior art, but novel and unobvious? (It's like the laser cat toy patent of a previous Slashdot article (please help with link) - sure it might be useful, but any doofus 3 year old knows that if you shine a light on a wall a cat will chase it.)

    Rather than just yap about this, why don't we form some kind of task force to fight this nonsense?

    I'd be happy to join.

  • by Ducati_749S (646019) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:45AM (#6813299)
    At the risk of taking M$'s side......
    This seems to be another example [slashdot.org] in an alarming trend of individuals or companies who had the forsight to patent an "idea" in technology for which they take no steps to develop, sit on it until they see that idea manifested and realized in someone elses work, and then sue them to make their money.
    It seems to me that a better way to quantify these patents would be to require some set of initial source code, architecture or methods of arriving at a techinical solution for the idea being patented rather than allowing the patenting of an idea whose makeup & implementation are left floating in a technological ether.
    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:21PM (#6816395) Homepage Journal
      I'll say it again: You can patent a cotton gin, but you can't patent the idea of cleaning cotton. Nor can you prevent other people from selling cotton cleaners while you have the patent.

      You can patent a drug that treats asthma, but you can't patent treating asthma.

      So, it follows, that you can't patent embedding objects in a hypertext document, you can patent a method of embedding objects in hypertext documents.
  • is actually firmly pointed at microsoft. as i recall from previous [slashdot.org] I,Cringly bully pulpit sessions (is this guy Bruce Almighty or what?) the Eolas kind folks planned on hitting m$ solely for the purpose of striking at their desktop monopoly in the heart. we can only hope that some money hasn't changed that.

    however, if they deny usage rights to m$, a glorious victory of the type that m$ can understand has been won. truly a case of Schumpertarian creative destruction if i have ever seen one.

  • I'm impressed... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by brucmack (572780)
    I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned this, but I'm impressed with the story outlined in the W3C statement... faced with a potentially large problem, the major players in WWW technology got together and had a really mature discussion about what they were going to do about it. It makes a good change from most of the practices that used to go on in the browser market.

    Also, they surely must share the same opinions as the majority here do on these sort of broad software patents... if companies like MS keep get
  • MS Only? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Malicious (567158) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:51AM (#6813355)
    The effect this has on Microsoft will be almost nil.. What do they care about what people see in webpages?
    The real people to worry should be Quicktime [apple.com] and, Macromedia [macromedia.com].
    See: the people who use/rely on this technology.
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 was the last standalone release of Internet Explorer, right? So, really, they're not changing a single thing.
  • tsk, tsk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lerouxb (457837) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:54AM (#6813375)
    This might be more bad publicity for Microsoft, but look at the bigger picture.

    Software patents are bad. We are now probably not allowed to embed just about anything anywhere. What about flash, java, pdf documents that open in your browser, mime attachments in your emails, stylesheets, etc?

    What if someone patents the command-line interface, GUIs, icons, toolbars, media players, p2p technology, archiving, backups, compression, encryption, the way we interact with pcs, vector animations, etc. ?

    Patents hurt society in the long run. One person might become rich, but it harms innovation and productivity.

    Besides - mozilla-based browsers, konqueror, safari, etc all use plugins. What about them? Do we have to remove this functionality from these opensource browsers as well?

    Where will it stop?
  • by the_2nd_coming (444906) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:57AM (#6813412) Homepage
    I would love to see software either being totaly copyrightable and nothing else, or totaly patantable and nothing else.

    if it the former, then anyone can write software tat does the same thing the same way, but the copyright lasts for a long time.

    if it is the latter, it stifles inovation due to patent suits, but the ability to protect the code expires after 15 years.

    the former I think is more favorable.
  • The Patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by PetoskeyGuy (648788) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:58AM (#6813421)
    Here is a link to the patent [164.195.100.11]

    Personally I think software patents are evil, as I'm sure many here do. Computer Science means learning from the work of others and advancing the field. Someone save us from the USPTO.

    BTW, Does anyone know if Eolas got their $521 Million?
  • Eolas spoke (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dark Warrior (132803) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @09:58AM (#6813426) Homepage
    from The Pulpit (November last year) [pbs.org]:

    But what if they won't settle for money? This brings us to Mike Doyle, who runs tiny Eolas Technology Inc., which controls a patent that covers embedding plug-ins, applets, scriptlets, or ActiveX Controls into Web pages -- the use of any algorithm that implements dynamic, bi-directional communications between an app embedded in a Web page and external applications. That more or less defines how the World Wide Web is used today. As I have written before, Eolas is suing Microsoft for patent infringement, and has been generally wiping the floor with Redmond. Of course, so did the DoJ, and look how THAT turned out. The suit comes to trial in the spring and should be very interesting, not just because of the principles involved, but also because Mike Doyle and Eolas insist they are looking for more than just money.

    "It would sure be nice for someone to actually consider all of this from our point of view, rather than MS's," wrote Doyle in a recent message to me. "It amazes me that everyone just assumes that MS will be able to merely write a check and make the whole thing go away. What if someone went through the following, purely theoretical, of course ;-), logical analysis?"

    "Is there any practical settlement amount that is worth more to Eolas than a victory at trial? Considering the facts in the case and the magnitude of the stakes here, a highly likely outcome is that it will actually go to trial, and, once it does, that a jury will award us both damages and an injunction. Injunction is the key word here. That is what patent rights provide: the power to exclude. What if we were to just say no? Or, what if some other big player were to acquire or merge with us? What if only one best-of-breed browser could run embedded plug-ins, applets, ActiveX controls, or anything like them, and it wasn't IE? How competitive would the other browsers be without those capabilities? How would that change the current dynamics in the Industry?"

    "One possible scenario is that Eolas would have the power necessary to re-establish the browser-as-application-platform as a viable competitor to Windows. That would be an interesting outcome, wouldn't it? How much would that be worth? The Web-OS concept, where the browser is the interface to all interactive apps on the client side, was always a killer idea. It still is. It lost momentum not because it wasn't economically or technically feasible, but because MS made it unlikely for anybody but them to make money on the Web-client side. Therefore, nobody could justify the necessary investment to take a really-serious shot at it. It doesn't have to be that way, does it? Just think of how we could use this patent to re-invigorate and expand the competitive landscape in this recently-moribund industry. What if we could do what the DOJ couldn't, and in the process make Eolas and everybody else, possibly excluding MS, richer? Wouldn't Eolas stand to profit more in such a scenario than any kind of pre-trial settlement could provide? Wouldn't everybody else?"

    "The last couple of years in IT seem to have convinced people that the current status quo will continue indefinitely. They seem to have forgotten what seemed so obvious as little as three years ago, that change is the only invariance. That axiom has always proven out in the past, and I'm certain it will continue to do so in the future."

    So will Mike Doyle give in to the Microsoft checkbook or will he opt, instead, to change the world of IT as we know it, knocking Microsoft down to size along the way? And notice how he referred to mergers and investors and being acquired? What if an IBM or an AOL or some party behind door number three was to do exactly that?

    As I said, it should be a VERY interesting trial.
    • Re:Eolas spoke (Score:4, Insightful)

      by amcguinn (549297) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:16AM (#6813615) Homepage Journal

      Very interesting. But he didn't promise anything: he even claimed to be speaking hypothetically.

      This could be interpreted as just trying to inflate the value of his patent. "Not only will I screw vast $$$ out of MSFT, I will then also be in a position to auction technical leadership in the browser market to the highest bidder."

    • Re:Eolas spoke (Score:5, Interesting)

      by *weasel (174362) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:42AM (#6813988)
      Mike Doyle clearly is seeking not a simple settlement. he is either on an anti-MS crusade, or looking for a more lucrative licensing deal for his patent.

      He could license the ability to run plugins to browser developers. guess where that most likely leaves the small market boxes? Linux, Unix, and Mac. behind and under-attended to. the developer couldn't release the code under the GPL, so the community wouldn't be able to fill the void.

      Alternatively, if this guy is on a little quest to knock down MS, and withhold the tech from them, or any developer with plans to release their browser to them, i think he is insane.

      Microsoft does not lose.

      would MS -really- lose if it isn't -their- browser on the desktop, but, for example, Netscape's? did the emergence of the web before MS had dominance lead do a decline in MS desktop sales? history tells us that they'd perservere, and find some way around it, to provide the same functionality with their own proprietary code.

      what happens when mr doyle flips his switch and 95% of the browser market (IE) can no longer watch flash videos in a web page, chat through a web page, watch a movie clip on ifilms, or use simple scriptlets or custom applets (potentially not even take advantage of mime typing or any function which invokes a dll)?

      why, microsoft would simply -stop- using hypermedia. it's not like they've been shy about breaking from standards in the past.

      They'd create a proprietary tangential protocol, that allows them to create a proprietary application that continues to offer full media control. if there is no hypermedia, there is no patent infringement.

      no longer will a page be an open collection of tags. rather it would be, potentially and probably, a DRM'd stream of data from provider to consumer, invoked and displayed according to user request, but never using hypermedia, or an industry standard.

      every URL becomes a 'msnet' network stream request - probably with simple XML still, but not in the 'hypermedia' sense. simply put - there is no longer an open standard.

      we are left at MS whim on whether they want to provide access to their new network on competing operating systems. (mac would be almost guaranteed, linux/unix and abandonware OSs would be in limbo).

      businesses -must- deal with the realities of MS corporate market share, and the web would fade into the mainstream background like IRC and Usenet, as underutilized text-only forums from a simpler time.

      you can accuse MS of many things, but losing, or rolling over to someone else's proprietary 'standard' that threatens their dominance (*cough*java*cough*) has -never- been one of them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:03AM (#6813484)
    remember kids, the enemy of my enemy can still be a freaking jerk.
  • by *weasel (174362) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:20AM (#6813664)
    you -cant- "embed" anything in w3c standard hypermedia. you place an tag and let the browser do the requested work. the object isn't 'embedded' in the hypermedia document, it's referenced by the markup tag.

    there's no 'embedding' going on in the document whatsoever, it's a request to the browser to load an object from a specified location and launch it with specified parameters.

    beyond all that, 'an object' is about the most broad concept one could possibly patent. not to mention the ambiguous nature of 'embed' with regards to a markup language.

    if i have a that specifies an url to a swf target inside a frame on my hypermedia document, is that 'embedding'? it could look to a user every bit the same as if i'd used .

    is it the functional 'embedding' of object data they have patented? (which as we can see -isnt- happening) or is it the visual presentation of an 'object' amongst hypermedia elements? because that would rule out java apps, -all- audio/visual components, swf, and any custom com/activex plugins.

    does this mean that i could have patented 'embedding an image' in hypermedia documents?
  • innovantion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slobarnuts (666254) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:25AM (#6813735) Homepage
    The economic-history of the U.S.is based on innovation. If we dont invent it, we make it better or mor efficient. But these friggin patent craps throw a mokey wrench in it. A word to people who want to want to create new technology, move out of the US. otherwise the chances are you will be sued. We have gone from the strongest nation in innovation, to the nation that is so keen on cashing out, that every body wants to get rich quick. Our current state is almost sad. If we keep letting crap like this blow by, we might as well kiss our number one nation in the world status goodbye. You cannot export legal decisions, technology can be exported, but if this keeps happening, technolog wont be, because the technologies will be developed in places that dont have the crap innovation laws.

    just my .02 but its where the evolution has brought us

  • by Zoop (59907) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:28AM (#6813790)
    One of XHTML 2's more controversial points is removing the img tag completely and replacing it with the object tag.

    This would superficially seem to put that strategy in jeopardy.

    Or would it? Images, at least, have a very limited interactivity with the browser (if you don't specify width and height, the browser calculates it and renders accordingly). There is, absent an image map, no interactivity.

    This is a serious question--does anyone know what this may mean, in light of the W3C's statement?
  • by Tim[m] (5411) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:32AM (#6813852) Homepage
    The message from W3C indicates that Microsoft will drop infringing features from Internet Explorer. You can expect Mozilla and Konqueror to avoid this patent like the plague, causing a chain-reaction encompassing Netscape, Firebird, Galeon, Safari, and others. It won't matter if one or two obscure browsers adopt this patented technique -- it will be dead on the web, and that will be a lose-lose-lose situation for the users, developers, and patent holder.
  • The answer is simple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd...bandrowsky@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:42AM (#6813995) Homepage Journal

    Make a new kind of thing that does what a web browser does, but isn't a web browser. MS could certainly push a new kind of content delivery engine, and create a "new web". Since the patent is for plugins into web browsers, they would no longer infringe.

    Or, they could stuff all of C# into a web browser in such a way as the browser becomes a downloadable program selector.

    I'm surprised MS lost this case.
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:48AM (#6814071) Journal
    Here is a link to a Q&A about the suit [ucop.edu], as well as links to various news stories on the Eolas news page [eolas.com]

    one of the answers is interesting.

    Q. What is the patented technology that was at issue in the case?
    A. The patented technology is a key component of the interactivity available on the Internet today. It allows web page developers to embed interactive programs in Web pages. A browser, equipped with the University of California's patented technology, is able to deliver that interactivity to the user. For example, the technology is used often with stock information, video players, games, virtual real estate tours and other interactive content on the Web. The patent allows the Web to be a platform for fully interactive embedded applications.

    Sounds like this has broader implications for the Internet at large which the web community may regret. It is not patenting hyperlinks, but I think it gets close.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2003 @10:58AM (#6814187)
    The reaction of the community in general surprises and saddens me.

    Ok, most of us view Microsoft as an enemy. Fine. I have no love lost for M$.

    However, in this situation any competent software engineer can see that they are right. The patent is obviously invalid. Any competent software engineer who was around at that time knows that Microsoft had COM and embedded documents long before this patent. Application of these technologies to browsers was obvious and trivial, and should not be covered by a patent due to being obvious.

    The honest position would be to fully support Microsoft in this matter, and not to search for possible positive outcomes out of browsers suddenly dropping plugins.

  • by wils0n (139703) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @11:36AM (#6814624)
    If MS "allows" itself to lose this case, are they not setting a precedent by which Eolas could attempt to attack OS?

    Certainly a plug-in model exists in OS and has a GPL-style license. What's to stop Eolas from pulling a SCO and trying to charge everyone who uses OS-based plug-in technology?

    It seems convenient that MS would lose on an important issue that could hurt OS much more than MS.
  • by GeoGreg (631708) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @12:55PM (#6815453)
    If you look at claim 1 of the patent (5838906 [164.195.100.11]) , the key seems to be a combination of 4 things: a browser, hypermedia (text with "clickable" links), a client-server architecture over a network, and dowloadable program code, executed on the client, that communicates both with the browser and bi-directionally with the server. The Eolas technology page [eolas.com] claims the first public demonstration in 1993. Was there anyone else who had all 4 components in one thing in 1993?
  • by GeoGreg (631708) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:10PM (#6815606)
    Want to see some of the original discussion on this patent? Go to this discussion [w3.org] on the www-talk mailing list from 1995, including posts from Mike Doyle of Eolas and other players (including Pei Wei, whose work Microsoft claims as prior art).
  • What should we care? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Asmodai (13932) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:55PM (#6816106) Homepage
    OK, just a very harsh and random thought, but...

    Why should the rest of the world care? The patent is only in the US. I could happily use the manners described in Europe of Asia since the patent doesn't apply there...

    Furthermore, I wonder why W3C is concerned, since it only affects, what, 10% of the world (no idea) or so? Sure, they have an office in the USA, but also one in Europe and one in Japan. Close the office in the US. And dang, too bad for Eolas.
  • Eolas = knowledge (Score:3, Informative)

    by nepheles (642829) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:13PM (#6816314) Homepage
    As a by-the-way, Eolas is the Irish-language word for 'knowledge'.
  • by SilentMajority (674573) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:00PM (#6816843) Homepage
    If IE has to be modified in order to workaround this patent, then it means Microsoft can require everyone using Windows to upgrade to IE 7.0.

    One of the challenges facing Microsoft (and other software companies) is getting their customers to install upgrades.

    With a proper spin on this, it shouldn't be hard to get everyone to throw out IE 5.5, etc. and finally upgrade to 7.0. This will probably begin by convincing websites to modify their content to support a NEW plugin standard supported by IE 7.0 in order to avoid lawsuits related to this patent.

    So in a nutshell, MS gets to "require" customers into upgrading without appearing to be the demanding bully. The only question I have is what else are they going to put into IE 7? Will this be like bills in our govt where they add stuff (pork) that won't get passed on their own?

    Maybe they'll bundle their new antivirus product and make it a huge publicity win. i.e. "Unlike Linux (re: SCO), we respect other people's IP so we changed our flagship product. Plus, we've added antivirus code to make this the most secure browser technoloy on the planet! And the anti-virus code incorporates DRM so your employees don't accidently make your company liable for their copyright violations!"

  • by Lonath (249354) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:47PM (#6818049)
    I hope they reduce their browser to displaying static content. I hope lots of people get pissed. I hope everyone explains to people that MS is NOT evil in this case. Software patents are evil, and if they want the WWW back, they need to write Congress to get rid of software patents! This could be the thing that gets rid of them. (Ok, not likely, but we can hope.)

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