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Internet Explorer The Internet Patents

Microsoft Holds Off on Eolas Patent Changes 239

Posted by michael
from the now-you-see-it dept.
Walkiry writes "As reported by Reuters, Microsoft believes the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office might come to the rescue and cancel the patent that was going to force them into changing the behaviour of Internet Explorer. Maybe the Patent Office is finally getting a clue? Or is it Microsoft's long arm? Time will tell..."
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Microsoft Holds Off on Eolas Patent Changes

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  • by barcodez (580516) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:55AM (#8134096)
    This is an import win for common sense and the software industry as a whole.

    Let's hope this can become a reference case for defeating further rediculous patents.
    • Yes it is. Hopefully in the future, we can do more of these as MS is suppose to be taking similar actions against Linux down the road.
      • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:05AM (#8134749) Homepage
        Yes it is. Hopefully in the future, we can do more of these as MS is suppose to be taking similar actions against Linux down the road.

        Since when has Microsoft attempted to enforce a patent in order to shut down Linux?

        Microsoft could probably do this if they wanted to. But there are many reasons why they are unlikely to do so. First there is IBM, Linux almost certainly infringes some Microsoft patent, Windows almost certainly infringes some IBM patent. It is a zero sum game.

        The other reason is anti-trust. If Microsoft tried that type of thing they would probably be ordered to license.

        Finaly the whole Microsoft ethos is built on competition. They don't want to kill competition entirely, they want to beat it up a bit, ok a lot. But if they kill them they have to find some new opponent. Netscape really were somewhat stupid here, when Windows 95 launched Bill Gates gave a widely reported speech that said 'OK thats Apple done for, do't get complacent, there are lots of companies out there to replace us'. Then that twit Marc Andressen says 'we are going to leave Windows as no more than a baddly debugged set of device drivers'. Whammo! Bill finds his new opponent.

        • by Dr. Evil (3501) on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:53AM (#8135195)

          "The other reason is anti-trust. If Microsoft tried that type of thing they would probably be ordered to license."

          Unless they license utterly freely, the GPL will not work favourably.

          IMHO, your first point is absolutely right. The IBM factor is the only thing which has prevented some Microsoft-lacky from attacking Linux on patent grounds.

          But if some Eolas-like company comes out of the woodwork... a one-patent no product company and attacks Linux for doing something like displaying text on a screen... that would be bad. It's not a zero-sum game if you can hide all your assets behind a limited liability wall.

          To do this you would need: Some really good lawyers, a few million dollars to pay them, a really sharp patent, very small corporation with a very short history, one asset (the patent), and a sick mind.

          Another way to look at it is: if SCO never produced any software, they wouldn't be targetable by IBM's patents.

          • I would like to see Microsoft's support in the fight against softweare patents. Software patents are bad for the industry. The SME are hit harder then the big ones. But CUI BONO? The patent industry is lawyers and patent privateers. Software developers don't need software patents.

            http://swpat.ffii.org
    • well the problem is that the Patent Office saw that it was an issue only because of Microsoft's "long arm". They are going to quickly realize that they can approve this sort of non-sense and profit from it in the political system.

      If you think that the Patent system will have drastic changes I think you've got another thing coming.
    • yeah right! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ender Ryan (79406) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:56AM (#8134653) Journal
      Yeah right, I really can't see this being a "win." If anything, it will be a concession made on the behest of a huge supporter of our current fucked up patent regime.

      Frankly, unless we get some real patent reform out of this, this will just go to show that you are totally fucked unless you are a Big Player(R).

      Perhaps I'm just cynical these days?

    • I sincerely doubt this could be considered a "win" for anything. The article does not say who initiated this reexamination request. Chances are someone just filed a request for reexamination (see the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, Chapter 2200 [uspto.gov]) which the USPTO accepted (See Smith & Hoppen, P.A. [baypatents.com] for a decent non-legal explanation of how this works).

      Anyone can file such a request if they have the proper forms and $2520 (See 37 CFR s1.20 [uspto.gov]). This option has been in place for awhile now, and I'm su
  • I hate MS has much as the next guy, but this Eolas patent is just wrong, especially in light of prior art, which has been discussed here to death on /.

    Lets just hope more stupid patents like this get overturned.
    • Don't count on that. It's all about money, and MS has too much to not buy influence.
    • You say that, but this paragraph bothers me:

      Microsoft has asserted that the patent was invalid due to preexisting inventions, but the court refused to let the jury consider the "prior art," or comparable previous technology.

      The court refused to let the jury consider the prior art? What is that all about? IANAL, but surely that makes a total mockery of the legal system.

      It's a Good Thing that sense was seen in the end, but it should never have got this far in the first place. Can anyone out there e
  • by tealover (187148) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:55AM (#8134100)
    the cancellation of this patent would be a good thing. We can't have these tiny little extornist companies putting a stranglehold on technology and commerce.

    Whatever Microsoft is guilty of, I don't recall it using patent violations as a tactic. They have created a lot of wealth for a lot of people. I can't say the same for the patent holders in this case.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Or too old to remember DoubleSpace?
    • by Albanach (527650) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:21AM (#8134311) Homepage
      Whatever Microsoft is guilty of, I don't recall it using patent violations as a tactic.

      You what? Have you read this [microsoft.com]? Microsoft are using patents - and even the claim that they might have patents - to prevent Open Source software maintaining file compatibilty with MS Office.

      Microsoft have never been shy about hinting to businesses thinking of adopting Linux that they may be left open to IP infringment lawsuits.

      I'm sure the thing that's annoyed Microsoft most about this case is that they never thought about lodging the patent first.

      • by m00nun1t (588082) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#8134421) Homepage
        I agree with the original poster. If you can name *one* case where Microsoft has made a legal threat based on infringement on one of their patents (and I'm sure they have a pretty long list somewhere of known infringements) I'd like to hear about it.

        Seems in general that for large companies (eg. IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, etc) patents are more of a defensive tool, but for small companies (eg. Eolas) they can sometimes be more of an offensive tool.
      • Your obviously not familar with the Eolas case.

        Microsoft knew full well that they were going to be sued regarding this patent.

        The professor (the sole employee of Eolas) in this situation was working with Microsoft to develop a 'plugin' archietecture for IE. Part of this work became ActiveX.

        The man in question was unable to negotiate a deal with Microsoft. They felt that his demands were too large.

        So they blew him off, like many other companies that they have cooperated with in the past.

        Unfortunately for them, he had been awarded a patent for his research.

        Now he has a bone to pick with Microsoft. I'm not sure where I filed the link (I'm at work, and I do most of my /.ing at home), but Eolas has no intention of going after anyone BUT Microsoft.

        And Eolas has no intention of licensing the patent to Microsoft, at ANY price---

        He specifically stated that he would like to see the Mozilla project+Netscape+Others have a 'leg up' on Microsoft.

        Anyways, just my 2 cents.
        • "He specifically stated that he would like to see the Mozilla project+Netscape+Others have a 'leg up' on Microsoft."

          I'd say that too. "Uh I'm working for the greater good." You'll pardon me for not having a lot of faith on that.
          • The thing is---he's been burned by MS.

            I'd say the same thing.

            And you know what? If it were me, I'd beat the hell out of MS with my patent club, and then license my patent to anyone else, for free, as long as it isn't MS.

            Remember, there is nothing to stop your from arbitrarily licensing your patents.

            You could refuse to license someone because their dog smelled bad.

            This guy has a bone to pick with MS. He's got his 1/2 billion dollar victory. He's got the opportunity to become a big player in the browser market---

            He could license his patent to everyone else, for free, because everyone else accounts for what, 5% of the market?

            The Internet Browser market is dominated by MS. He doesn't need to sue the Mozilla Foundation, Opera, Netscape, etc. . . It doesn't do him any good, and any money to be made along those lines would pale in comparison to the $500 mil he got from MS.

            He's said as much, and that he is more than willing to grant said licenses.

            If it were me (and this guy sounds like a good guy, from all the interviews I've read, and from the University of California endorsement), I'd be doing EXACTLY what he is doing.

            I wouldn't cry foul until he refuses a free license to the Mozilla foundation, etc. . . .
        • He specifically stated that he would like to see the Mozilla project+Netscape+Others have a 'leg up' on Microsoft. ...and this is why he'll probably lose the case. If he were to just apply the patent to everyone, that's in the American spirit: tough business. In this case, it's a personal vendetta against a company with strong links to government... I'm afraid it doesn't look too good for the professor.
          • Not true.

            Your allowed to enforce patents as arbitrarily as you want. The American spirit has little to do with it.

            Unlike trade marks, or trade secrets, patents can be arbitrarily enforced and still retain their full weight.
            • My comment was not intended to talk about what the rules actually are...

              My point was that because he has gone after only MS, it will be easier for MS to convince the government to throw out the patent, since it will be easier for them to convince the authorities that it is a bogus patent, since the holder is only using it to punish the company he doesn't like.

              It has nothing about what people are allowed to do, but everything about what is likely going to happen in the complicated machine that is corporate
      • You what? Have you read this [microsoft.com]? Microsoft are using patents - and even the claim that they might have patents - to prevent Open Source software maintaining file compatibilty with MS Office.

        (Standard disclaimer first -- long-time Linux enthusiast, make my living writing Linux software, Bill Gates is the anti-christ of the computing world, Tux is way cuter than Clippy, etc etc etc. ;-)

        Unless I'm misreading things, the Office 2003 XML Reference Schema Patent License you linked to does not prevent OSS

    • MS is using two obsolete patents it owns in an attempt to club Samba.

      MS ever-so-graciously decided to publish their CIFS protocol and license it to anyone EXCEPT OSS projects. (Or as they called them "viral licenses".)

      MS is not above using patents to club the competition into submission.
    • Here, here! Send the little extornists back
      to extornia where they belong. After all,
      aren't we in the middle of a war on extornism?
      If God didn't want us to make war on the little
      extornists, She wouldn't have made them so
      much smaller than we are!

      Personally, I don't care if they come in
      companies, troops or battallions; I say:
      Smash them!

    • Whatever Microsoft is guilty of, I don't recall it using patent violations as a tactic.

      I was just thinking about something. With all the backlog at the patent office is it possible that Microsoft hasn't been too agressive with patents because it was waiting for them to come through? I mean, we are just now seeing cases like this one which are claiming 5 year old plus internet technology. And there was recently the article about Microsoft starting to enforce licencing of the fat32 extentions which are eve
    • They have created a lot of wealth for a lot of people.

      Fascinating, I'm sure. But so what?

  • by Fr05t (69968) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:56AM (#8134103)
    Microsoft has already paid licensing fee's to SCO for this technology!

  • by Mork29 (682855) <keith.yelnickNO@SPAMus.army.mil> on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:56AM (#8134105) Journal
    Lets face it, you want to think of Microsoft as the bad buy in every lawsuit. Hell, 1/2 of the /.ers around here blame Microsoft for the SCO vs. IBM thing. This really isn't the case with alot of these patent laws. Old patent laws don't apply well to new technology that develops VERY quickly. True progress is going to require a legal system that understand the technology that it governs over.
    • by Titusdot Groan (468949) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8134165) Journal
      Well if the patent office followed their own rules about not being "obvious to an ordinary practioner of the art" and about "being new and original" I'm not sure there WOULD be a problem with patents.

      The number of patents that are being granted that are obvious solutions to a problem (eg. 1 click patent) or not original (eg. this one) is staggering.

      • I agree, but I think the real problem here is that patent officers are paid commission (or so I've heard many times on /. from those who say they know). If that can't change, at least hold the officers accountable for this misgivings, such as docking them pay or giving them the boot after a couple of patents are proven obvious and / or pre-existing, as many of the computer technology patents have been lately.

      • A patent is no more absolute than a bill passed by Congress. The legal muster it must pass follows its granting, not the other way around. This is just a matter of course. Sure, the PTO should do more due dilligence on these things, but since they'll be challenged in court anyway no matter how much scrutiny they receive, in the end it doesn't matter.

        You could patent "a means of teleporting living beings through empty space via an invisible energy beam" or a "means of faster than light travel involving tril
      • by servoled (174239)
        Well if the patent office followed their own rules about not being "obvious to an ordinary practioner of the art" and about "being new and original" I'm not sure there WOULD be a problem with patents.

        There seems to be a lot of confusion about the laws here, specifically 35 USC 103(a), the obviouness requirement. 35 USC 103(a) states:

        A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject

        • Exactly: this decision by the courts has changed "would have been obvious" to "had been obvious". This changes the whole thing into a redundant "prior art" claus. Idiots.

          I have a love/hate relationship with the appellant courts :-)

  • ...typing in the URL you want to go to by hand, every time. Just in case. I really need the toilet but I'm afraid I'll be sued for breach of copyright, by Microsoft, for whatever comes out.
  • by beegle (9689)
    My ideal scenario: the patent office throws out the Eolas patent AND throws out the trademark on Windows.

    Microsoft lawyers alternate between high-fives and crying jags.
  • by 77Punker (673758) <spencr04&highpoint,edu> on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:03AM (#8134164)
    If it works like the courts, the patent office might actually feel the need to work in a regular pattern and rule on things in the same way. If they keep working like this, maybe the bullshit will finaly cut down.
  • reminiscing (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoGuffCheck (746638) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:04AM (#8134170)
    just reminiscing of a time when British Telecom tried to patent the hyperlink... 10 points for ambition though!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'll believe any kind of bribery or influence long, long before I believe that the patent office has a friggin' clue!
  • The Patent... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Slick_Snake (693760)
    sounds a lot like java applets. Is sun going to be targeted as well or is the company just against M$ using the concept of "mini programs". I think the patent should be thrown out because the concept is not anything that is really new just a specific case of an ongoing trend in software.
  • Decisions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr_Silver (213637) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:06AM (#8134191)
    Whilst I agree that the patent is absurd and should never happen - it is worth noting that if Eolas go only after Microsoft, then this could get the other non-IE browsers a significant leg up in market share.

    Right now the internet standard have been set. It doesn't matter what new proposals come out of the W3C or how well other browsers will perfect their implementations, the internet will always be suspended at the greats common denominator (which is, in this case, the functionality of IE 6). No-one in their right mind is going to abandon support for the browser that 90% of potential customers use.

    By levelling the playing field a bit more, this would mean that webmasters and designers would not be afraid to move on and leave IE behind. By doing so, Microsoft would be forced to keep up to maintain market share.

    However, there is one big caveat - and that is the Eolas doesn't use their win against Microsoft to go after everyone else. This is a pretty big if and definely one that cannot be easily discounted.

    If Eolas do decide to follow suit with other browser manufacturers then any "leg up" that has been gained will be lost, IE will still be dominant and the WWW standards will stop. However if Eolas doesn't go after anyone else then this is quite some benifit.

    Unfortunately, banking on Eolas winning and not sueing anyone else is just too much of a risk. Which means that, in this case, the best course of action to is come to Microsofts defence, get it overturned and accept that for WWW standard to move on (which will necessitate the removal of IE from the top spot), it must happen in a different way.

    • JAVA??? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by diablobynight (646304)
      Remember what happened when Microsoft was forced to stop packaging the Virtual Machine. It was very damn annoying, whenever I would want to use Aim express or another Java app, I had to go download something. And for you broadband users that's probably cool, but over my slow modem connection(I know I know, my fault right, but seriously to my house there is no affordable broadband, I live in the boonies, and I hate sattelite broadband.) It takes forever to download this java. And what exactly did sun achieve
    • Re:Decisions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by andih8u (639841) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:33AM (#8134407)
      Whilst I agree that the patent is absurd and should never happen - it is worth noting that if Eolas go only after Microsoft, then this could get the other non-IE browsers a significant leg up in market share.

      And when they decide to go after Mozilla or Opera because they didn't get enough money from suing Microsoft...by then those other browsers will have a bigger market share, according to your bizarre world anyway. What's bad for one company is bad for all of them.
      • And when they decide to go after Mozilla or Opera because they didn't get enough money from suing Microsoft...by then those other browsers will have a bigger market share, according to your bizarre world anyway. What's bad for one company is bad for all of them.

        Had you continued reading past the first paragraph, you'll have seen that I make references to the very big caveat of that bizzare world.

    • Re:Decisions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sepluv (641107) <blakesley@NospAm.gmail.com> on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#8134422)

      I'm sorry but this is a ludicrous point of view to hold. Are you saying that Eolas be allowed to use the law in a clearly immoral (and illegal) way?

      We should all be fighting attempts to patent basic ideas like those of the WWW and calling for reform of the patent system to aviod these sorts of patents (as opposed to real physical inventions that are clearly original and which it has taken the inventor time to create).

      it is worth noting that if Eolas go only after Microsoft

      Why would they only go after M$? Even if they do don't you think that this is extremely unfair on M$. M$ have as many rights as anyone else. For anti-M$ fanatics out there lets put this another way: by arguing this is OK, you are going as low as M$ by saying that certain companies (M$) should be blocked out of the market by anti-competitive reasons (something that M$ has done). If others do this to M$ they will feel it is OK to do, and you will become just as bad as them.

      then this could get the other non-IE browsers a significant leg up in market share

      As someone who never uses MSIE, I fail to see what the point in increasing the share of real (non-MSIE) WWW browsers is. I do not use them but why should I support forcing other people to do the same as me (in this case using immoral anti-competitive means). OK, yes people should be made aware of alternatives, but so what if people want to stick with the default that comes with MSW? People should have choice.

      I use Mozilla-based browsers and the aim of the Mozilla Project (and I'd imagine the other free-software browsers) is to make the best (most standards-compliant user-friendly &c) WWW browser -- not to get the biggest market share. If Mozilla aimed to do that they would just be making themselves like MSIE. Why should the Mozilla community (developers, users) care if MSIE has more share.

      By levelling the playing field a bit more, this would mean that webmasters and designers would not be afraid to move on and leave IE behind.
      This has already happened for any webmasters that care about their users. For instance, nearly all sites are compatible with Gecko because webmasters just cannot ignore 5%-35% of their users (depending on which independent survey you believe) -- I think it is probably nearer 5%-10%.

      If they go so low as to sue M$ over this totally spurious patent, why would they not sue everyone else they can think of to maximise their profits from their patent (using lawsuits)?

      In this case, the best course of action to is come to Microsofts defence

      In all cases, the best course of action to follow who you think is in the right.

      • Re:Decisions (Score:3, Informative)

        by rmohr02 (208447)
        I'm sorry but this is a ludicrous point of view to hold. Are you saying that Eolas be allowed to use the law in a clearly immoral (and illegal) way?
        It's not illegal to allow one organization to use your patent free of charge while making another pay. It probably won't happen, but it's not illegal.
        • Sorry. I was not clear and typing very quickly -- I meant illegal as in "not legal", "against what the law says", "misinterpreting the law" (as in the USPTO should not have granted this) as opposed to saying that Eolas, themselves are in direct violation of the law -- I was not implying that what they had done can nessecarily get them pulled up before a court (even thought it is immoral).

          Although for all I know (IANAL & IANAUSC) there might be some rule about losing patents if they are not enforced.

      • I'm sorry but this is a ludicrous point of view to hold. Are you saying that Eolas be allowed to use the law in a clearly immoral (and illegal) way?

        If you'd read the entire comment you would have seen that I didn't suggest that.

        Why would they only go after M$?

        If you'd read the entire comment you would have seen that I said that this line of reasoning would only work if Eolas didn't go after other companies. The founder has claimed that he won't - but it's a very big "if".

        As someone who never uses MS

        • If you'd read the entire comment you would have seen that I didn't suggest that.

          Although I do disagree with the great-grandparent, much of my ranting (grandparent) post including my comment about "a ludicrous point of view to hold" was aimed at the posts in general (more than yours).

          I decided to vent my frustration on the simplistic M$-is-evil-kill-the-bastards mentality on your post, because it was modded high and actually contained valid (but not, IMO, necessarily true) arguments (that could therefor

          • The specifications are advancing very well indeed (as are some implementations (i.e.: user agents) following closely behind). If you meant that authors will not use the new features, many of the more knowledgeable authors will and already do (see my "This has already happened.." comment in the grandparent).

            True, however I'm concerned that although geeky personal homepages may evolve, the big ecommerce outfits will be reluctant to move forward with new specifications whilst over 90% of their clients won't

    • Re:Decisions (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwin AT amiran DOT us> on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:20AM (#8134867) Homepage Journal
      This series of threads is really starting to bother me.

      You people don't know who Eolas even is--

      It's not a really a company, its just one guy, Dr. Michael Doyle, at the University of California.

      He has specifically stated that he has NO intention to hurt the rest of the community---Just Microsoft.

      Microsoft has worked with him at one point, and he is peeved off that he never got compensated for his work.

      Let me point you at this Cringley interview:
      http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pul pit20021107. html

      The meat of the article:
      "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."


      Seems like a FINE idea to me---Not like MS doesn't hold enough patents on various aspects of the browser.

      The fight against MS is a war, harsh and cruel. MS is willing to break the rules. MS is willing to use unreasonable patents. MS is willing to be dirty and underhanded.

      There is nothing wrong with a little bit of underhandedness against them.
      • He has specifically stated that he has NO intention to hurt the rest of the community---Just Microsoft.

        The biggest problem with this which I noted is that its a very big "if".

        Although it would be nice to think that this patent can help boost the alternative browsers, but there is nothing to stop Eolas going after other companies after Microsoft.

        If they do this (and lets be honest, if there is money to be made - then all bets are off), then they'll be simply re-levelling the playing field back in Micro

        • 2 reasons.

          1. MS controls 95% of the browser market. This $500 million is for that % of dominance. Any fine levied against any other browser manufacturer would be minimal.

          2. The worse that can happen is we go back to square one. No-one can use the technology.

          I doubt #2 will happen, he's already committed to licensing his 'patent' for free for open-source projects.

          The only real risk is that MS buys him out, and then uses his patent to smash the competition.

          But I doubt that. He's mad at them.

          He's won his
  • by corebreech (469871) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:06AM (#8134193) Journal
    They could, if they wanted to. They're in a position to use the Eolas patent to say, "Hey, these software patents are stupid! Let's change the system!"

    But will they? Of course not. The stupid patents are stupid to Microsoft only when they prevent Microsoft from writing code. It's true that they haven't been litigating violations of their own patents to date (at least I think that's true) but it does appear that that's all about to change as they resort to bare knuckles tactics with the OSS community; the ridiculous Office XML patent [slashdot.org] being a good case in point.

    I wish I was wrong. But I'm not.
    • Litigating, to date, none that I'm aware of.

      But recently, Microsoft has threatened to enforce the four long-filename-on-fat patents, so that devices which use it (such as with removable media cards). This would tax the consumers of non-Microsoft products for a 1993 invention that is now ubiquitous in the marketplace.

  • by mhazen (144368) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:10AM (#8134217) Homepage
    Having worked with intellectual property matters in the technology arena (both patent and trademark), the staggering antiquity of our concepts in protecting the fruits of one's intellectual labors is, well, staggering.

    Patents are broken down into small "claims", and a patent can easily have hundreds of these, if not thousands. Even the most ridiculously simple idea gets divided into minute, easily digestible sections. One such section I remember was included to explain the concept of a ZIP code, and how the company filing the patent was NOT the arbiter or owner of that concept, but was using it as a reference within their work, and that this was not a determining factor in their technology (they could have easily used another large-scale locational identifier, such as area code). Hence, their patent could be defensible when someone claimed in court that it was based on technology they had no claaim to ownership of.

    But worse, the point of the average patent is not to delineate what it is, but what it's not. If your patent includes as part of its concepts anything which you did not personally conceive of, and which you have not attributed to their original creators, That claim becomes indefensible. Toss out one claim, and the whole patent is invalid. It's a house of cards, and that's how patent attorneys litigate patent cases.

    When push comes to shove, Amazon knew exactly what they were doing (certainly, their lawyers did) when they patented "one click", and they did it because a patent is precisely designed to allow the applicant to carve out as massive of a piece of intellectual pie as the patent office deems acceptable. Eolas is doing the same, in a different light, it would appear.

    If you can state a case, without prior art being an issue, for patenting Earth, feel free. The rest of us will either have to move, or beat you up you and steal your planet. :)

    In cases like this, where someone else comes up with a basic idea, manages to patent it, then extends their idea to encompass the known universe, perhaps the whole issue of reexamining the validity of the original patent should be considered. It would certainly cut back on the "I invented soil, it's mentioned in my patent" suits.

    • Patents are broken down into small "claims", and a patent can easily have hundreds of these, if not thousands.
      Patents are not "broken down" into claims -- the claims ARE the grant of rights. Patents can not "easily have hundreds" of claims: the inventor pays, in addition to the application fee, for each claim, at the rate of $86 dollars for each independent claim (first 3 come with the initial fee) and $18 dollars for each dependent claim (first 20 claims overall come with the initial fee).

      At that rate,
  • by joostje (126457) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:12AM (#8134239)
    The word "win" obviously is too close to the trademarked "windows" [slashdot.org], owned by Microsoft, so no-one else is allowed to do it. They had to win.
  • Two faced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moderation abuser (184013) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:14AM (#8134260)
    Let's be honest here. Throwing out these patents sets the precedent that big boys can bully the patent office into throwing out the patents of the small guys. You don't really beleive that it's going to apply to anyone who doesn't have billions of dollars in the bank, do you?

    • Re:Two faced (Score:3, Interesting)

      by andih8u (639841)
      or it sets the precedent that ridiculous patents should be thrown out. Guess that never factored into your grand conspiracy though, eh?
    • The process of reexamination is well-established in the Patent Act and available to everyone. If Eolas doesn't like the result, they can appeal internally through the Patent Office appeals process, or to a district court, and from either of those to the Federal Circuit.

      Nobody gets a free ride.

      Just for the record, Microsoft has been at the shitty end of the patent stick since the outset. They took a record loss in the STAC case until the bigger Eolas judgment. Although they got some relief in the Reiffi
  • by hconnellan (31637) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:19AM (#8134299) Homepage
    I would hope to think that Tim Berners-Lee [theregister.co.uk] was more significant than Microsoft in fighting this.

    After all, if he said it was prior art, then it was prior art.
  • don't be naive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by a_hofmann (253827) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:30AM (#8134393) Homepage
    i am not trying to be a troll, but isn't it pretty naive to think that there might be finally showing up brain cells in the patent office?

    we hear stupid patents getting approved every other day, and now they play the ball into microsofts hands...

    it's just another issue of economics forcing a governmental body to it's will... the patent system, already killing the small business in favour of the big 0wner, will widen the gap even more.
  • Self-Interest (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lexic0n (107205) * <(jeff.herron) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:42AM (#8134488) Homepage
    I am excited to hear this news out of pure self-interest.

    The sites I maintain do a lot of video streaming, and I have been having a heck of a time getting everything working optimally with the Javascript workarounds Apple, Macromedia, and others are promoting as the best way to deal with this potential change to IE.

    I've been dragging my feet on getting it all figured out. As is typical in the industry these days (or so it seems from what I've read and am myself experiencing), I'm a one-man web shop in my company's IT department, overworked, underpaid, project managing, testing, developing, and it all has to be done right NOW!

    All I can say is, if I don't have to mess with this IE workaround stuff for ActiveX, it'd be all right by me.

    Not to mention that this is potentially a big win for the Internet as a whole. If one of these idiotic methdology/software patents can suffer a big blow like this, there's hope that they all can!
  • Wake up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:45AM (#8134526)
    Is everyone on /. so brainwashed by the anti-patent groupthink here that you can't recognize the real message in this announcement? What this announcement tells us is that Microsoft has been either forced by their customers to keep the infringing technology in Windows or they've concluded that their proposed IE patch actually doesn't avoid infringement. Microsoft's statements concerning the "legal status" are merely spin to redirect attention away from their failure and towards a questionable action by the (recently-resigned) Patent Commissioner.

    The circumstances surrounding the Patent Office's reexam are quite fishy. Commissioner Rogan granted the reexam the day after it was requested by Sir Tim. The judge in the case comments on this in his recent ruling:

    "One possible reason to believe that the reexamination would not take long is that, according to the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination policy, the reexamination was triggered by a ?substantial outcry? from the Internet community. The most prominent among the creators of the Web, Sir Timothy Berners- Lee, expressed the view that the PTO had missed clear prior art. Judging from the record before me, it is safe to say that some of the outcry arises from the view of a significant portion of Web experts, including Berners-Lee, that royalties ought not to be paid patented Web innovations. This contingent believes instead that Web invention is for the good of humanity and not the inventor. If this is the true reason for the reexamination, then I doubt the reexamination will take very long."

    When the judge refers to "the record before me" he is talking about the facts that the two references that Berners Lee cited to the PTO were both exhibits at the trial and that Dave Raggett, the author of those two references, actually testified at the trial. Raggett's testimony showed that he hadn't even considered "interactive processing" in what he proposed in 1993. For this and other technical insufficiencies, Microsoft chose to drop the Raggett references from the case. The fact that those two references are the best that Berners Lee could come up with doesn't bode well for Microsoft's chances.

    The other often-cited "prior art" is the Viola software which Pei Wei claimed anticipated the Eolas invention. The fact is that Wei was asked to demonstrate that software during the trial, and in the process was confronted with the fact that it never actually worked the way he's always claimed it did. Microsoft got caught tring to rig the demo so as to hide this fact. This article [rkmc.com] gives a colorful description of Wei's failed attempt being exposed on the witness stand.

    It's funny how these facts never seem to make it into the Microsoft-controlled press.

  • by Gannoc (210256) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:46AM (#8134538)
    Is this a pro-Microsoft article? Wait, am I on Microsoft's SIDE here?

    MY EYES!!! THE BURNING!!! MY EYES!!
  • Ideas do not manifest in a person's mind out of nothing. A person can invent a thing because society created the right conditions through education, health care, etc. This person cannot invent anything without the aid of the society. With an invention this person just pays back his debt to society.

    Also, there is no non-obvious thing to invent. Competent people in a field will solve a problem in a similar way. This is called progress and not an invention.

    Patents try to establish a notion like saying 'Witho
  • by Mawbid (3993)
    Microsoft has asserted that the patent was invalid due to preexisting inventions, but the court refused to let the jury consider the "prior art," or comparable previous technology.

    I'm hoping this is just bad reporting, but if the patent office is granting dubious patents and letting the courts sort them out, perhaps somebody should tell the courts to actually do that.

    • the court refused to let the jury consider the "prior art,"

      I noticed that too. If that is the case, it explains a bit about how the jury ruled in the case.

      Is this the common practice in this type of case? I mean, we're told often enough after a really moronic patent is awarded, that now we just have to wait for the courts to 'sort things out'. Well, if the court isn't considering testimony concerning prior art that would invalidate the patent, then we're even more screwed than I thought was the case.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:48AM (#8135142)
    Computer users visiting pages that rely on Active X code would be confronted with an additional dialog box that would ask the user whether they wished to run Active X controls.

    And why isn't this a good idea already? Wouldn't it be nice to know what is about to run on a new page you've entered for the first time before it runs?

  • "Maybe the Patent Office is finally getting a clue?"

    More like maybe the Patent Office is finally getting their palms greased?
  • That both Gnome and KDE, as well as some other windowing environments contain "Eolas IP" as well. So those guys are next in a row. Now all those exagerrated user base estimations can rear their ugly head and bite desktop linux vendors right in their asses.
  • by HiThere (15173) * <charleshixsn@NOSPAM.earthlink.net> on Friday January 30, 2004 @03:14PM (#8137574)
    The USPTO knows which side their bread is buttered on. They are a profit center which earns it's bread by issuing patents. They don't gain anything by denying patents. (This is, I believe, one of Regan's "reform"s.)

    The result was predicted ahead of time, and has come to pass. You could probably be issued a patent on round wheels, and they'd leave the courts to sort it out. But when a powerful company exerts political muscle, they bend. They are under the juristiction of politically appointed officials, and those officials have the last word whenever they want to. So all you need to do, is cause them to want to.

    Corruption? How can you call this corruption. Every action that anyone takes is legal under the laws... that people in their position have caused to be written and passed.

    N.B.: This is independant of what party is in charge. This is the result of the design of the system. If you want to change it, you need to change the design of the system. To me it seems that the USPTO has, over the decades, become so unjust and otherwise disfunctional that the best choice would be to just revoke it completely and start over. The ONLY feature that I have identified as worth keeping is the relatively short life span of patents. There may possibly be other good features, but I don't know what they could be, certainly not their method of searching for prior art, and certainly not the extra specially expensive court for contesting patent claims.

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