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Eolas
Type Technology
Founded 1994
Founder(s) Michael David Doyle
Headquarters San Francisco?, United States

Eolas (an acronym for "Embedded Objects Linked Across Systems", and Irish for "knowledge") is a United States technology company. It was founded in 1994 by Michael David Doyle. His University of California, San Francisco team has claimed to have created the first web browser that supported plugins. They demonstrated it at Xerox PARC, in November 1993, at the second Bay Area SIGWEB meeting. The claim has been contested by Pei-Yuan Wei, developer of the earlier Viola browser, a claim supported by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and other Web developers. Wei was only able to partially demonstrate equivalent Viola capabilities at the 2003 Eolas v. Microsoft trial, embedding a local file rather than a remote file given a short time to do so, and thus fell short of proving prior art to the court's satisfaction.[1]

Contents

Products

In 1995, the founders of Eolas released WebRouser, a proof-of-concept browser based on Mosaic that implemented plugins, client-side image maps, and web-page-defined browser buttons and menus.[2]

Patents

US patent 5,838,906,[3] titled "Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document," was filed on October 17, 1994 and granted on November 17, 1998.

In Autumn 2003, the inventor of the World Wide Web and the Director of the W3C Consortium Tim Berners-Lee wrote to Under Secretary of Commerce, asking to invalidate this patent, in order to "eliminate this major impediment to the operation of the Web". Leaders of Open Source Community sided with Microsoft in fighting the patent due to its threat to the free nature of the Web and to the basic established HTML standards. The specific concerns of having one company (Eolas) controlling a critical piece of the Web framework were cited.

In March 2004, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) re-examined and initially rejected the patent. Eolas submitted a rebuttal in May 2004. On September 27, 2005, the USPTO upheld the validity of the patent. The PTO ruling rejected the relevance of Pei Wei's Viola code to the Eolas patent. According to the University of California press release, "In its 'Reasons for Patentability/Confirmation' notice, the patent examiner rejected the arguments for voiding UC's previously approved patent claims for the Web-browser technology as well as the evidence presented to suggest that the technology had been developed prior to the UC innovation. The examiner considered the Viola reference the primary reference asserted by Microsoft at trial as a prior art publication and found that Viola does 'not teach nor fairly suggest that instant 906 invention, as claimed.'[4]

Eolas was granted a second patent in October 2009 related to the same technology.[5][6]

Litigation

Microsoft declined to license the technology when it was offered to them (and others) in 1994.[7]

In 1999 Eolas filed suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Microsoft over validity and use of the patent. Eolas won the initial case in August 2003 and was awarded damages of $521 million from Microsoft for infringement. The District Court reaffirmed the jury's decision in January 2004.

In June 2004 Microsoft appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In March 2005 the District Court judgment was remanded, but the infringement and damages parts of the case were upheld. The appeals court ruled that the two Viola-related exhibits that had been thrown out of the original trial needed to be shown to a jury in a retrial. Microsoft quickly filed for a rehearing.

In October 2005, The Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Microsoft's appeal, leaving intact the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Eolas with respect to foreign sales of Microsoft Windows. However, the remand to District Court had not been heard yet.

In May 2007 the USPTO agreed to allow Microsoft to argue ownership of the patent after they reissued a Microsoft patent that covers the same concepts as outlined in the Eolas patent, and contains wording that mirrors the Eolas patent.[8][9] The USPTO ruled in favor of Eolas on that matter in September 2007.

Microsoft and Eolas agreed in July 2007 to delay a pending re-trial, in order to negotiate a settlement. On August 27, 2007, Eolas reported to its shareholders that a settlement had been reached, and that Eolas expected to pay a substantial dividend as a result; the exact amount and terms of the settlement were not disclosed.[10]

In October 2009 Eolas sued a number of large corporations for infringement of the same patent. The sued corporations include Adobe, Amazon.com, Apple, Argosy Publishing, Blockbuster, CDW Corp., Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, The Go Daddy Group, Google, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., New Frontier Media Inc., Office Depot Inc., Perot Systems Corp., Playboy Enterprises International Inc., Rent-A-Center Inc., Staples Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Yahoo! Inc., and YouTube LLC. [11]

Effects on other browsers

In February, 2006 Microsoft modified its Internet Explorer web browser to appear to side-step the Eolas patent. The change, first discussed in 2003,[12] requires users to click once on an ActiveX control to "activate" it before they can use its interface. The specific message is "Click to activate this control", shown as a tooltip when the cursor is held over the embedded object. However, following a November 2007 announcement that Microsoft had "licensed the technologies from Eolas",[13] in April 2008 Microsoft released an update which removed the click to activate functionality reverting the software to its original design.[14]

In June 2006, Opera Software released version 9 of its Opera browser for Windows and other operating systems, with modifications similar to Microsoft's.

Developers of other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari might feel obliged to either implement a similar change to attempt to avoid infringement or to license Eolas' patent. Dr. Doyle has stated that Eolas would offer royalty-free licenses to non-commercial entities. A statement on Eolas' web site clarifies the company's policy with regard to such licenses.[15] Eolas has not yet indicated intent to pursue further cases.[16] As of 2007, no Eolas license has been granted to the leading open-source browser, Mozilla Firefox.

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Workarounds

One workaround is to dynamically create the HTML element containing the plugin using JavaScript, rather than embedding it on the page. In this situation, Internet Explorer did not ask the user for an "activation" click because the patent does not cover embedded scripting.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Defense of U.S. Patent No. 5,838,906". Elysium Digital. http://www.elys.com/eolas.php. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  2. ^ "Eolas releases WebRouser via the Internet". Press release. http://1997.webhistory.org/www.lists/www-talk.1995q3/0566.html.  
  3. ^ US patent 5838906
  4. ^ University of California (2005-09-28). "U.S. Patent Office reaffirms University’s Web-browser technology patent". Press release. http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/2005/sep28.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  5. ^ US patent 7599985
  6. ^ Shankland, Stephen (2009-10-06). "Eolas sues corporate giants over Web technology". CBS Interactive. http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-10368638-264.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  7. ^ "Questions and Answers about UC/Eolas patent infringement suit against Microsoft". University of California. http://www.ucop.edu/news/archives/2003/aug11art1qanda.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  8. ^ Bangeman, Eric (2007-05-31). "USPTO gives Microsoft chance to overturn Eolas browser plug-in patent". Condé Nast Digital. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070531-uspto-gives-microsoft-chance-to-overturn-eolas-browser-plug-in-patent.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  9. ^ "Microsoft gets OK to stake claim for interactivity patent". Hearst Seattle Media. 2007-05-30. http://www.seattlepi.com/business/317739_msftpatent30.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  10. ^ "High-profile, 8-year patent dispute settled". Hearst Seattle Media. 2007-08-30. http://www.seattlepi.com/business/329766_msfteolas31.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  11. ^ "Eolas Technologies Files Infringement Lawsuit". The Wall Street Journal. 2009-10-06. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/eolas-technologies-files-infringement-lawsuit-2009-10-06. Retrieved 2009-11-08.  
  12. ^ Hines, Matt (2003-08-29). "Will Microsoft tweak IE?". CBS Interactive. http://news.cnet.com/Will-Microsoft-tweak-IE/2100-1012_3-5069943.html?tag=st.bp.story. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  13. ^ LePage, Pete (2007-11-08). "IE Automatic Component Activation (Changes to IE ActiveX Update)". Microsoft. http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2007/11/08/ie-automatic-component-activation-changes-to-ie-activex-update.aspx. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  14. ^ "The Microsoft Internet Explorer Weblog". Microsoft Corporation. 2008-04-08. http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2008/04/08/ie-automatic-component-activation-now-available.aspx. Retrieved 2008-04-11.  
  15. ^ "Licensing". Eolas. http://www.eolas.com/licensing.html. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  
  16. ^ Hicks, Matthew (2003-09-29). "Eolas Founder: Browser Victory Shouldnt Alter HTML". Ziff Davis Enterprise Holdings. http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1496493,00.asp. Retrieved 2009-10-08.  

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