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Eolas Patent Victory Raises Concerns For HTML

by Glen Shapiro,, New York

24 September 2003

Following a defeat for Microsoft earlier this year over patented technologies which allow its Internet Explorer browser to access interactive programs embedded in web pages, leading internet standards group, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is reported to be examining the implications for the HTML programming language.

In August, a federal jury ruled that Microsoft had taken technology owned by the University of California and Eolas Technologies, and bundled it with Windows as its own ActiveX technology, which allows IE to play plug-ins.

Eolas and UC were awarded $520.6 million, based on a calculation of $1.47 per unit for the 354 million copies of the operating system sold between November 1998 (when Eolas was granted the patent) and September 2001.

Although Microsoft has promised to appeal the ruling, recent reports have suggested that the software giant is also examining its other options and preparing for the worst case scenario.

Although W3C has not yet publicly commented on its future plans in light of the ruling, a CNET News report has revealed that it is planning to form a patent advisory group.

The PAG will be tasked with conducting an investigation into the legal ramifications of the case with regard to HTML, which also acts to summon content located elsewhere than on the page being viewed by an internet user, and could therefore conceivably fall foul of the Eolas patent.

Options open to the PAG, according to CNET, include new wording in HTML to remove the 'object' and 'embed' tags, and the issuing of warnings to developers that they should obtain a license for the use of such tags, or the discovery of 'prior art', or technologies which predate that owned by Eolas, and which could therefore invalidate its claim.

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