Does Eolas Patent Infringement Case Against Microsoft, Apple and Others Have Web Implications?

By Constantine Roussos
Constantine Roussos

Eolas, a technology company that was awarded $565 million in a patent infringement settlement against Microsoft in 2007 is embarking on another campaign against others under the same grounds of patent violation.

The latest lawsuit alleges that Apple and 22 companies are in violation of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,838,906 and 7,599,985, which involve embedded Web applications within a browser. The list of infringers also include Google/Youtube, Yahoo, Adobe, Amazon, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, Go Daddy, J.C. Penney, JPMorgan Chase, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Staples, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments even adult-oriented Playboy.

The patent allows websites to add fully-interactive embedded applications via plug-ins and Ajax techniques, Eolas said in a statement about the lawsuit. "Intellectual property is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy," said Dr. Michael D. Doyle, chairman of Eolas. "The primary reason for this has been the success of the U.S. patent system in allowing the innovative company in a field to develop and market its new inventions without having competitors unfairly profit from the innovator's hard work. We developed these technologies over 15 years ago and demonstrated them widely, years before the marketplace had heard of interactive applications embedded in Web pages tapping into powerful remote resources. Profiting from someone else's innovation without payment is fundamentally unfair. All we want is what's fair."

Does this mean every company that employs the simple mechanism of starting a program from a web page liable for patent infringement? The reality of the matter is that Eolas patents have been upheld in court numerous times, granting them $545 million in litigation awards. The patent is quite "counter-internet" and even the founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee expressed his discontent about the implications of the Eolas patent in a letter to the USPTO in 2003 and claimed that prior art should invalidate Eolas 5,838,906 patent.

What happens next remains to be seen. Patents need to be protected as intellectual capital vital to a company's business and global commerce. However, in the case of Eolas, the viability of the patent goes against the current wave of technology that naturally embed programs within web pages and browsers as a given. Being sued each time such technology is used is akin to Sir Tim Berners Lee patenting his invention of the World Wide Web and charging billions of web users for its use.

By Constantine Roussos, Founder of DotMusic. Visit the blog maintained by Constantine Roussos here.

Related topics: Law, Web