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Created: August 28, 2003.
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W3C Opens Public Discussion Forum on US Patent 5,838,906 and Eolas v. Microsoft.

Update 2003-10-28. W3C launched an HTML Patent Advisory Group to deal with the court case of Eolas v. Microsoft and US Patent 5,838,906. See the FAQ, Home Page, and Charter. W3C has filed a Citation of Prior Art and appealed to the USPTO for reexamination of the patent award based upon its invalidity and unjustified impediment to the operation of the Web: "W3C Presents Prior Art Filing to USPTO and Urges Removal of Eolas Patent."

W3C has published a report from Steven R. Bratt (W3C Chief Operating Officer) on the matter of US Patent 5,838,906 and the Eolas v. Microsoft lawsuit. The patent is described as applicable to Java applets, browser plug-ins, ActiveX components, Macromedia Flash, Windows Media Player, and related "embedded program objects." The W3C document reports on a recent meeting of W3C Members and other key commercial and open source software interests, held to "evaluate potential near-term changes that might be implemented in browsers, authoring tools, and Web sites as a result of the court case." A new W3C 'public-web-plugins' list provides a public discussion forum for those concerned with the patent and recent court decisions. Since the patent may "potentially have implications for the World Wide Web in general, including specifications from W3C, the W3C believes that it is important for the Web community to begin now to consider and contribute to the range of technical options available." According to W3C's summary, the relevant patent assigned to The Regents of the University of California and managed by Eolas Technologies Inc. "claims to cover 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. 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."

Abstract for United States Patent 5,838,906

Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document

Patent filed October 17, 1994 with application number 324443. Granted November 17, 1998. Assignee: The Regents of the University of California (Oakland, CA). Inventors: Doyle; Michael D. (Alameda, CA); Martin; David C. (San Jose, CA); Ang; Cheong S. (Pacifica, CA).

Abstract: "A system allowing a user of a browser program on a computer connected to an open distributed hypermedia system to access and execute an embedded program object. The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects. The user may select the program object from the screen. Once selected the program object executes on the user's (client) computer or may execute on a remote server or additional remote computers in a distributed processing arrangement. 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. One application of the embedded program object allows a user to view large and complex multi-dimensional objects from within the browser's window. The user can manipulate a control panel to change the viewpoint used to view the image. The invention allows a program to execute on a remote server or other computers to calculate the viewing transformations and send frame data to the client computer thus providing the user of the client computer with interactive features and allowing the user to have access to greater computing power than may be available at the user's client computer."

From the W3C Report

W3C's document "W3C Holds Ad Hoc Meeting on Recent Court Decision, Launches Public Discussion List" constitutes a first communiqué designed to respond to the patent ruling. W3C is also "preparing a FAQ for public distribution, and has already initiated consideration of longer-term, standards-based solutions... W3C will continue to coordinate with the Web software vendors and organizations, and keep its Members and the public informed as these efforts progress..." Excerpts from the report:

In the near term, Microsoft has indicated to W3C that they will very soon be making changes to its Internet Explorer browser software in response to this ruling. These changes may affect a large number of existing Web pages. W3C does not yet have any indication of what action, if any, other vendors of Web tools might take. In the longer term, should the court decision be upheld in its current form, some participants suggested that other action might be required. W3C has made efforts to contact the patent holder to determine their future intentions, but has not received any reply.

W3C believes that it is important for the Web community to begin now to consider and contribute to the range of technical options available.

As a result, W3C invited its Members as well as other key commercial and open source software interests to attend an ad hoc meeting, hosted by Macromedia, on Tuesday 19 August [2003] in San Francisco, California. The objective of the meeting was to begin to evaluate potential near-term changes that might be implemented in browsers, authoring tools, and Web sites as a result of the court case.

There was widespread agreement that a solution that minimizes the effects of changes to Web software, Web sites and the user experience was needed. 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, including establishing a developer Web site and mailing list to coordinate approaches for changes to Web sites and software, and providing early releases of software and documentation. Further details on these will be forthcoming.

Eolas Description of 'The Web Application Platform' Patent

A document "Selected Inventions by Eolas People" on the Eolas website described [2003-08-28] the U.S. Patent 5,838,906 governing 'The Web Application Platform' in these words:

"Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document. U.S. Patent 5,838,906, Filed in October, 1994, Issued November 17, 1998. Inventors: Michael D. Doyle, David C. Martin and Cheong Ang. First demonstrated publicly in 1993, this invention lifted the glass for the first time from the hypermedia browser, enabling Web browsers for the first time to act as platforms for fully-interactive embedded applications. The patent covers Web browsers that support such currently popular technologies as ActiveX components, Java applets, and Navigator plug-ins. Eolas' advanced browser technology makes possible rich interactive online experiences for over 500 million Web users, worldwide."


Analysis of the Eolas/University of California patent claims and recent court decisions is being formulated slowly, pending the outcome of Microsoft's appeal. Many in the technology sector are concerned because the claims against Microsoft's products (MSIE, Windows Media Player, etc.) appear to be applicable to products from Sun, and to all current web browsers that use plugins. People already of the opinion that US laws on software patents are hopelessly broken, that philosophical justification is fatally flawed, and that the patent review process is badly administered (patent application reviewers having no concept of what a "non-obvious" software solution might be) -- will have no difficulty classifying this case as yet another in a long history of embarrassing episodes, giving the Europeans just cause for derisive laughter. People already of the opinion that software patents constitute a healthy mechanism for supporting innovation will applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of the University of California in (apparently) landing this big fish at the expense of a(nother) convicted monopolist. Open source software vendors are understandably worried about rulings such as this, as they have no adequate weapons with which to defend themselves against attack.   --   <OpEd disclosure="embarrassedUCGraduate"/>

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