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Could Eolas End Microsoft's Browser Dominance? 531

rustynail writes "The tiny Eolas web company is about to lock horns with Microsoft in a legal battle over a patent that Eolas owns covering all uses of plugins, applets, activeX controls and other similar technology. The difference here is that, according to this article Eolas might not accept a payout: instead they might exclude IE from using these technologies at all.. opening the way for a new browser war." We mentioned this dispute a few years ago, too, but an outcome to the Justice Department's case against Microsoft was far off in 1998.
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Could Eolas End Microsoft's Browser Dominance?

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  • Plugins??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SavingPrivateNawak ( 563767 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:22AM (#4631753)
    But what about other browsers???
    • Re:Plugins??? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:21AM (#4631890) Homepage Journal
      Hehe...exactly my thought. If these folks win their case, the bell tolls for the Internet as many know it. No more plug-ins mean no Java, no Flash, and probably no embedded multimedia, M$ Word docs, PDF, and so on and so forth. Unless, of course, we all want to pay royalties to Eolas? Personally, I think it would be a Bad Thing if they won the suit. I strongly dislike this sort of patent. Just because they're after M$ in this case doesn't change that into a Bad Thing. Let's not fight Evil with evil.
      • Re:Plugins??? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sivar ( 316343 )
        The Cringely article made Eolas sound like they were interested in re-establiching competition and hurting Microsoft's almost complete control of the browser market.
        If the company was simply greedy -- greedy enough to exclude Mozilla and other free browsers -- they would probably just demand a large payout, then all the executives would retire, sickeningly wealthy.

        This probably doesn't matter, though, because Microsoft is so big they will almost certainly find a way to prevent this from happening. It is even possible that Eolas is going public with their intention in order to scare Microsoft into accepting an even larger settlement. Even if Microsoft cannot brute-force the patent, they will probably try something like redefining "plugin" or somesuch, perhaps creating an easy way to statically link "plugins" on the fly. They would point this out (or whatever technique they could use) to Eolas, and then Eolas will either lose in the long run or simply accept a payout after all, for fear of losing anyway.

        Still, wouldn't it be incredibly cool if Eolas could actually pull it off? Mike Doyle would be remembered as the hero of the entire computer industry, having done what the Justice Dept. and dozens of competitors could not do -- Ironically, using patents: The same system that has so often been wielded as a weapon to fight freedom and technology for simple profit.
        • Re:Plugins??? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by phyxeld ( 558628 ) <<ten.esionehtnitsol> <ta> <xyhp>> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:18PM (#4634263) Journal
          Still, wouldn't it be incredibly cool if Eolas could actually pull it off? Mike Doyle would be remembered as the hero of the entire computer industry...
          Uh, no.

          Mike Doyle is the enemy. Software patents are so often abused, and everyone on slashdot knows it... How could anyone possibly view this as a positive thing?! If he wins this, Opera and Netscape will have to pay him too. Even if he makes exceptions for free browsers (something I haven't heard mentioned yet) it's still a dirty rotten evil software patent. "Bi-Directional communication with a webserver" could well even cover javascript-RPC tricks []. Do I have to may Mike Doyle if I code something like that?
      • Re:Plugins??? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by transiit ( 33489 )
        Woohoo! No java, no flash, no embedded multimedia, no word documents, no pdf!

        Can't wait! Finally, we can actually look at actual *gasp* content!

        It'll be like we can browse the web with just a web browser.

      • If these folks win their case, the bell tolls for the Internet as many know it. No more plug-ins mean no Java, no Flash, and probably no embedded multimedia, M$ Word docs, PDF, and so on and so forth.

        Man, I wanted to moderate this discussion, but I couldn't help but respond to this one.

        If you think the internet is based on browser plugins, then you are on crack. If not being able to use browser plugins would ruin your "internet experience" then you really have a problem. Embedding things into the browser was just a convenient way to use external programs from within the browser experience. That is all. This wouldn't mean that you couldn't download and use external programs. I am trying, but I can't think of how this would greatly impact ANY significant user of the internet.

        Although I hate stupid patents, I have to kind of cheer about this one a little, only because it sounds like these guys might not take the payoff. I know, it is highly unlikely that they would turn down a huge settlement, but I think the article is asking the question "what if they don't?". Yeah, patent law sucks, but it ain't changing. The patents are out there, and people are getting new ones. As long as they take the payouts, the system won't change. SOMETHING needs to happen to wake people up to patent reform. If not, it will only get worse and worse. So I am kind of hoping this case will be a nightmare for everyone, for the eventual greater good.

    • by Baki ( 72515 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @11:01AM (#4632012)
      What is the use of plugins? I've always wondered.
      Example PDF, I always disable the plugin and have acrobat launch externally. Inside the browser you don't have much control and the menu is not or only partially visible.

      Same can be told of applets, media plugins etc. They only remove end user control. External windows containing an app to display a certain media type (whether a java app, audio or video) gives more control (you can close the app or iconize it and continue reading the page).

      Some plugins are so irritating, such as shockwave which is almost only used for advertising, that I have fully disabled them. I can't stand reading a page with blinking and moving parts that I cannot click away.

      Yes, even though I am principally opposed to patents, in this case I want to make an exception :). I hope they get their patent and make the Internet plugin free.
      • Shockwave IS useful (Score:3, Informative)

        by metalhed77 ( 250273 )
        lots of avant-garde websites use shockwave for their site design. Being much more flexible than flash amazing results can be achieved. Applets are also useful, for things like my ISP ATTBI, which has online tech support chat through applets embedded in webpages. Without applets they surely would have gone with something that required download, which would definitely have been windows only.
        • by Quazion ( 237706 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @01:23PM (#4632556) Homepage

          Webbased chats ? like that one above ?
          Needs no java, maybe some basic Java Script support if at all... There are alternatives you just have to look around and dont put a blindfold for :)


          And for webdesign, maybe i am a geek or something but flash or shockwave sucks! html is easy and fast and with a good designer it can look and feel great. And i think even faster developed too.
          ( but its just a way of thinking, since i dont like moving things on sites, i like content and moving thigns dictract me from the content. )

          Though i think for example movies in flash are oke, but not as a browser plugin, create a seperate protocol or something with a nice client around it if you like, but keep things simple.
  • by rainer_d ( 115765 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:22AM (#4631754) Homepage
    EOL for IE or so ;-)
    • Re:Nomen est omen... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Bunji X ( 444592 )
      It is a beautiful thought, but I really doubt it. :-)

      The US government and legal system has several times shown that Microsoft is above the law and cn pretty much do as they please. The times they have been found guilty, the sentences have been absurdely easy on them. What makes people think that all this would all of a sudden change just because a small company sues them?

      Yes, their claim might be very correct, but imo sof was the claim of DOJ.
  • Surely this is bad news for Mozilla, opera et al as well?
  • Win/Win (Score:5, Interesting)

    by troll ( 593289 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:24AM (#4631760) Journal
    Its a win/win situation when you think about it.
    Microsoft will of course fight this, but what possible results will there be?:

    1)Eolas wins, microsoft is crippled.
    2)Microsoft wins, stupid patents are crippled.

    Either way, we(the consumers) win.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:30AM (#4631775)
      2)Microsoft wins, stupid patents are crippled.

      ..and so, if microsoft loses, another incredibly stupid software patent is proven valid. And that's bad not just because of the consequences for other applications that use the oh-so-obviuos plugin structure - it kind of clears the way for even more insane, consumer-damaging stupid patents.
      • by DrLazer ( 228664 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:05AM (#4631858)
        ..and so, if microsoft loses, another incredibly stupid software patent is proven valid. And that's bad not just because of the consequences for other applications that use the oh-so-obviuos plugin structure - it kind of clears the way for even more insane, consumer-damaging stupid patents.

        A patent which, if you check [] was first demonstrated in 1993 (when WWW traffic was 1% of the whole backbone) and filed in '94. And what was the big Netscape breakthrough in 1995? SERVER PUSH.

        Having everything integrated under one hood is only an obvious solution in hindsight.

        • I don't blame Eolas for trying to cash in, but frankly the patent is ludicrous. Mosaic already had the concept of application helpers for handling unrecognised mime types even back in 1993 so the ability to embed data within the page was just a logical extension of that. X vendors have made a living for years selling widget kits and embedding content in a page is little different.
    • Re:Win/Win (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LX.onesizebigger ( 323649 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:31AM (#4631779) Homepage

      1)Eolas wins, microsoft is crippled.
      2)Microsoft wins, stupid patents are crippled.

      Either way, we(the consumers) win.

      So speaks the optimist. In reality, it's a lose-lose situation.

      1. Eolas wins, stupid pantent-wavers gain more power.
      2. Microsoft wins, no further comments needed.

      (This ha-ha, only serious comment is brought to you by the it's-the-end-of-the-world department.)

    • Re:Win/Win (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:33AM (#4631788)
      I don't think it's a win/win because the users of the internet will simply keep using MSIE even in crippled form and because it's the most popular browser. This will result in websites changing to conform to the new standard and we'll be back in the dark ages again...

      If Eolas loses then nothing changes. If Microsoft loses probably nothing will change for a while, but then people's websites will start changing and Eolas will still be a nobody.
      • Re:Win/Win (Score:5, Interesting)

        by pcardoso ( 132954 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:00AM (#4631844) Homepage
        Dark ages? If this meant a end for flash only or java-ridden websites , it would be somewhat positive.

        Web producers having to concetrate more on content than presentation, imagine that!

        I'm not advocating flash and java free websites, but it would diminish the crap that's out there today.
      • Re:Win/Win (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dpt ( 165990 )
        "Dark ages"?

        I think the "dark ages" were when documents required arbitrary and/or proprietary programs and services to be located, transported and displayed. That's the problem the web was invented to overcome, and now you want to go *back* there?

        Get your own damned port for Flash/Shockwave/Java applets or whatever other nonsense that amuses those who like bright shiny things. Port 80 is for HTTP and HTML. Maybe XML.

        More and more organizations configure their firewall to disallow all this other brain-dead rubbish from being received, and a good thing, too. It's too much of a security risk, and there's no business case for receiving any of it that I've seen.

        I'll allow Javascript through, but not everyone does. Of course, more and more Javascript weenies attempt to obfuscate their tags and code so that the firewall can't easily detect it. That's even more obnoxious than spam, and is just causing another arms race.

      • Re:Win/Win (Score:3, Interesting)

        by shatfield ( 199969 )
        There's a flaw in your thinking here, mostly because you may have forgotten one little bit of information:

        That Microsoft has integrated IE into the core of their OS.

        If a Judge decides in favor of Eolas, and Eolas demands an injunction, you can expect Longhorn to go away, and you won't find any copies of Windows being sold on store shelves (either virtual or real). Furthermore, the Judge could demand that Microsoft release an operating system update that would force Windows to exclude all embedding functionality in existing versions of IE. Your next security fix could indeed be the one that brings IE (thus Windows) to a barely usable state.

        This could be the patent that killed Microsoft.

        Also, if Eolas were to enforce some kind of "GPL'd software only" restriction, Microsoft would be forced to free their Windows source code.

        Puts an interesting spin on the whole thing, doesn't it :-)
    • I am all for companies with stupid patents winning out against larger companies. Not because I believe the patent system is defective (which I do) but because the system in place isn't there to protect individual inventors or small innovative companies.

      Why do people, on slashdot of all places, lament the troubles a large company will have fighting these stupid patents? Why should we feel anything at all for these orginizations? Does it really matter if some company "steals" some other companies idea and makes a better product out of it? Oh sure on some emotional level it does, but if it gets us, the users/consumers the product cheaper, better, faster so what?

      Now of course I know the above argument is faulty but really think about it for a second, when you complain about the patent system... why exactly are you complaining? and for whom?
    • Re:Win/Win (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tconnors ( 91126 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:09AM (#4631871) Homepage Journal
      1)Eolas wins, microsoft is crippled.
      2)Microsoft wins, stupid patents are crippled.

      Well, in response to 2 - it is not a stupid patent. This is a case where patent laws are a Good Thing - this patent was shown to Microsoft 2 years before M$ implmented the code, so it probably was "novel, and not obvious to someone versed in the art *at that time*".

      And if M$ win, will it be because finally stupid patents have been realised to be bogus, or M$ has so much money to pay lawyers, that they just had to pay enough money to get the case struck down - or bought the judge or politicians?

      I somewhat doubt it will be based on merit - but you probably know the US justice system more than me - fortunately, I only have to *hear* about the horrors....
      • Re:Win/Win (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Khalid ( 31037 )
        This guy didn't *invent* plugin, the idea of plugin existed way before that, and if my memory serves well, Lotus 123 used to have them back in the 80 ! so what he did is just apply the "idea" to a browser, so much for an innovation. This is a typical internet related patent where you can patent everything, as long as you put the "internet" or "web" labels on it !
    • If Microsoft wins, at least one stuid patent is defeted.

      If Eolas wins, the dream scenario is that Microsoft start effective lobbying against software patents, and we get rid of them once and for all.

      The nightmare scenario is that Microsoft buys Eolas, and any hope of ever challenging Microsofts browser dominance is gone.
  • by sielwolf ( 246764 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:24AM (#4631762) Homepage Journal
    Would we sacrifice our stand against crappy patent law in an attempt to get Microsoft any way possible?

    (Personally I'm against such a hypocritical move. The law should apply to all of us or it applies to none of us).
    • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:02AM (#4631848) Homepage Journal
      Right on the money. It's saddening to think how many people are cheering seeing this article when it really represents all that is evil in software: Ridiculous patents (two-way communications? Give me a friggin' break), predatory enforcement, and a company looking to exist on the coattails of other organizations.

      Of course it all sounds absurd to begin with. You cannot specifically exclude a company from licensing your patents (it's one of the fundamentals), and furthermore you have to set a equitable and constant, non-discriminatory licensing fee. Personally I think Microsoft will ground these guys into the ground, and given my feelings on absurd patents that add absolutely nothing to the general pool of knowledge (but merely describe the obvious and then hope for the checks to come rolling in), I'm very happy about that.
    • by MartinG ( 52587 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:06AM (#4631860) Homepage Journal
      Microsoft losing would be good here, not because we don't like Microsoft, but because it could be a good high profile publicly visible example of how the patent system is utterly broken.
      • by Syre ( 234917 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @05:27PM (#4633711)
        This embedding patent should be denied on the grounds of obviousness. That being said, here's a more likely scenario:

        - The patent is upheld.
        - Microsoft offers n billion $ for an exclusive license.
        - The money finally corrupts the patent holders and they grant the exclusive license.
        - Microsoft offers to license the patent "on reasonable terms" to anyone, thus not breaking the law.
        - The side effect of this is that no usable open-source browsers can be made any more.
        - Microsoft thus crushes the open source movement (at least at the desktop).

        People who are saying "great!, let's use a stupid software patent to get Microsoft" are making an argument like the "good king" argument, which goes something like: "Yes, arbitrary power is bad, but there were good kings."

        Sure, and they were followed by bad kings. The only answer is to get rid of the flawed institution, not hope for a good king.
    • by HEbGb ( 6544 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:54AM (#4631988)
      Sorry, buddy, Slashdot does not have a unified view about this issue. This isn't some political party.

      You don't speak for me.
      • by tmark ( 230091 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @01:00PM (#4632438)
        Slashdot does not have a unified view about this issue. This isn't some political party.

        If you mean to say that everyone who reads Slashdot doesn't necessarily have the same view, then of course you're correct. But then your comment about political parties would be wrong, since in any party there are always dissenters about platforms central to the party (consider say, abortion, or capital punishment, or welfare, and the Democratic and Republican parties).

        Almost certainly the original poster meant his comment as a form of shorthand, a reference to the dominant view (or at least the most vocal or up-moderated). Not everyone has the same view here, certainly. But there is a prevalent opinion that is propagated by the most up-moderated posts and the editors. If you can't see that, you're just blind.
    • As a developer of Internet applications (different from a web developer, but still...) I rely heavily on standards to get my job done, and IE kills standards, so it makes my job harder. Thus, if MS loses this battle, I'll be happy.

      As a developer of open source software, I rely heavily on software concepts, some of which may have been patented at some point or other. Bad patent law kills software development, so it makes my job harder. If MS wins this battle, it'll be a blow struck against bad patent law. It'll also piss MS off quite a bit. MS doesn't try to profit from its patents too much; it uses them defensively against Eolas and its kin by doing patent swaps; the result of this case might be an MS lobby against software patents. This would make me really happy.

      I don't see how I can lose this one.
    • "Sacrifice" and "consistency" are out of context here. Loving this case is not in any way inconsistent. Rather, it's a watershed. I'm against software patents (actually, they're prima facie insane). I also dislike Microsoft's monopolistic practices (among them maintaining a large software patent portfolio), and the high prices, dearth of innovation, and bad engineering they engender.

      Generally we have to devote energy to combating both. Now, the two will combat each other. It's beautiful, really; all we have to do is sit back, and one, or the other, or both, will come out of this fray the worse for wear. If only this sort of "hypocrisy" could happen more often.
  • by timmyf2371 ( 586051 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:26AM (#4631767)
    Could Eolas End Microsoft's Browser Dominance?

    I very much doubt if Eolas' holding these patents would end Microsoft's dominance of the web browser. As long as future versions of Windows include Internet Explorer, the masses will continue to use it. It doesn't bother Joe Consumer what his browser does, whether it supports ActiveX et al. As long as he can double-click on "The Internet" he'll be happy.


    • by Melantha_Bacchae ( 232402 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:34AM (#4631792)
      timmyf2371 wrote:

      > As long as future versions of Windows include
      > Internet Explorer, the masses will continue to use
      > it.

      Windows XP very nearly didn't include Internet Explorer. Longhorn will probably not include Internet Explorer. It will be replaced with MSN Explorer.

      The masses will be browsing Microsoft's network, not the internet.

      "At this moment, it has control of systems all over the world.
      And...we can't do a damn thing to stop it."
      Miyasaka, "Godzilla 2000 Millennium" (Japanese version)
    • by LionsFate ( 513762 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:43AM (#4631809)
      As long as he can double-click on "The Internet" he'll be happy.

      Windows has pretty much adopted a total ActiveX stance. Its "Windows Update" is ActiveX. The desktop since Win98 has been ActiveX enabled. Browsing your own hard drive through Explorer uses those same ActiveX libraries.

      Not to mention how many sites use Flash and Java, that the patent would also cover.

      What makes me curious is that statment that they said. The publically claimed to be seeking to knock Microsoft off its high-horse.

      Can Microsoft use that statement against them in court, claiming that they arn't even seeking a reasonable resolution?

      They are publicly claiming to be trying to cripple Microsoft, knowing fully how well they rely on ActiveX for buisness. Isn't .NET also covered by this patent? In which case wouldn't that make all thier newer products violiate the patient, since they all use the same libraries?

      If they win, it would certainly change the way MS works. But I've yet to see someone stick to thier guns when offered a billion.

      • First off, I am for any type of broad and vague software patent like this but..

        They are publicly claiming to be trying to cripple Microsoft, knowing fully how well they rely on ActiveX for buisness.

        Chicken and the egg. The patent was already there. If MS truely relies on that technology for business then they really do owe it to the patent holder. They took someones patent idea and used it for themselves.

        claiming that they arn't even seeking a reasonable resolution?

        Again. If MS was able to further corner a market and make a few billion dollars off of someones patented technology I believe that the patent holder would be well justified to expect a few or more billion dollars in return.

        If MS was the holder of this patent would you expect them to act any differently?

      • Can Microsoft use that statement against them in court, claiming that they arn't even seeking a reasonable resolution?

        Assuming the patent is upheld, and assuming Microsoft is found to be in violation, the law says the "resonable" resolution is that Microsoft cannot use the patent without permission. Period. They would have to pay damages and cease producing any product that violates the patent.

        Microsoft is perfectly free to ASK for permission in exchange for money, but the patent holder is perfectly free to say "no thanks, I don't like your offer", no matter how much cash Microsoft offers. There is no law saying anyone has to licence their patent AT ALL, much less one that says they must do so in a "reasonable" manner.

  • Prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Malcolm MacArthur ( 66309 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:28AM (#4631770) Journal
    Surely there must be prior art for this patent? For instance, wasn't there a Lisp-based e-mail program on an experimental Lisp-based system in the Sixties or Seventies that allowed code to be embedded in a message? I only remember this because it was mentioned in an article on a web page about the security deficiencies of allowing embedded code, specifically in e-mail...

    Microsoft-bashers might think that this court case is a Good Thing, but really, having such wide-ranging patents is most definitely a Bad Thing.

    • Re:Prior art? (Score:2, Informative)

      (I don't like Microsoft, but i'd like to call your attention to an important fact here)

      Microsoft-bashers might think that this court case is a Good Thing, but really, having such wide-ranging patents is most definitely a Bad Thing.

      Don't worry.

      American (and worldwide) Economy depends so much on Microsoft that they just can't be defeated in court (remember the anti-trust case?) If Microsoft goes down, lots of mutual funds go with it. Think:
      • 401(k) funds
      • Pension funds
      These two would impact people directly and in a terrible way, unfortunately.
      Sad, isn't it? Get used to having Windows & IE around for a long time...
    • Re:Prior art? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by orkysoft ( 93727 )
      It's an incentive for Microsoft to spend the funds necessary to get the software patent law repealed, which would be a Very Good Thing[tm].
    • Re:Prior art? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chester K ( 145560 )
      Surely there must be prior art for this patent?

      I think Microsoft's in the clear on this one. ActiveX is based on COM and OLE technology, which has been around since at least Windows 3.1, which predate the patent's 1994 filing date.
  • by 26199 ( 577806 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:30AM (#4631776) Homepage

    ...since it really does sound like the kind of software patent all free programmers hate...

    In any case... I really can't see Microsoft losing over something like this, to be honest. I mean, they're pretty much above the law, right?

    We can look forward to a junk patent being overruled, wich is always a good thing...

  • Who owns Eolas? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grungeKid ( 4260 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:33AM (#4631785) Homepage
    Who owns Eolas? Is it just Mike Doyle or does he have a bunch of shareholders to answer for? If it's the latter, wouldn't it be very easy for Microsoft just to buy the company? It might potentially be much cheaper than fighting it in court (esp. if they lose).

    By the sound of the article, Mike Doyle won't be selling out any time soon, but he might not be the only one in this descision.
    • Re:Who owns Eolas? (Score:4, Informative)

      by theduck ( 101668 ) <theduck@newsgu y . c om> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:42AM (#4631806)

      Well, a search on Yahoo Finance for Eolas [] doesn't turn up any publicly owned companies that include that name.

      But that doesn't necessarily mean that Doyle owns a controlling interest in the company. He could be answering to venture capitalists or other private investors and we'd have no way of knowing.

      • Re:Who owns Eolas? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Reziac ( 43301 )
        Pilfered from the "Invest" link on their site:

        Investment Opportunities

        Although Eolas Technologies inc. is privately funded at present, from time to time there may be opportunities for certain qualified investors to invest in the company. If you would like more information on investment opportunities in Eolas, please send an email to Please make sure to include your personal contact and background information, as well as your investment history.
    • Re:Who owns Eolas? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wkitchen ( 581276 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:51AM (#4631831)
      If it's the latter, wouldn't it be very easy for Microsoft just to buy the company? It might potentially be much cheaper than fighting it in court (esp. if they lose).
      That is a truly frightening thought. If Microsoft became the owner of those patents, they could then be used as a weapon against many competing products. Including, and maybe especially, open source ones. Those patents backed by Microsoft's well financed legal department and their privately owned politicians would be very evil indeed.

      The great irony would be that Microsoft, who came late to the browser game, could then sue Netscape/Mozilla out of existence for patent infringement, even though it predates IE (unless you consider IE's NCSA Mosaic roots, though that, of course, was not created by MS).

      I'm reminded of Douglas Adams' "Sirius Cybernetics Corporation", which, if I remember correctly, came to prominence by using time travel to go back in time and file patents so they could sue the original inventors for infringement.
      • Re:Who owns Eolas? (Score:2, Informative)

        by AndroidCat ( 229562 )
        That was a copyright violation. "Space is big..."
      • Re:Who owns Eolas? (Score:3, Informative)

        by rnd() ( 118781 )
        You're right about what the outcome would be. All Microsoft would need to do would be ask the founder, "would you rather harm our business or sell your company for $100 Million?" This guy is pulling a publicity stunt in order to sell his company to Microsoft. He's not an anti-Microsoft crusader, he's an opportunist.

        Yes, the outcome of such a sale would be that Microsoft owned the patent to plug-ins. If Moz & Netscape had to pay Microsoft royalties for use, then suddenly those browsers are non-free. Now, Microsoft can charge money for its browser if it wants. The end result would be that the rest of us would have to start paying to use a plug-in compatible browser.

    • Surprisingly, This lawsuit is good for microsoft in many ways. And in fact the single most advantageos thing microsoft can do is fight this hard and LOSE!. This immesnely strengthens there position in net dominance.

      Here's why. First suppose they fight hard and lose. Now the patent is entrenched. This hurts Netscape, Sun, Apple( via quicktime), KDE, and IE equally. In fact its a body blow to all of them. But now what, well two things can happen

      Scenario 1: Microsoft Buys the company to get the now validated patent (say for 1 billion), and then puts JAVA and Netscape out of the embedded app bussiness.
      Scenario 2: Microsoft is unable to but the patent. But they dont care! why because they have the .NET strategy. .NET escapes this patent. And by abandoning IE's EMBED and APPLET tags who do they hurt? JAVA and Quicktime get hurt. MS who does not get hurt. All of their embedables work fine under .NET. And as far as browser wars go, this is great for Microsoft since Netscape wont be able to use Embeds. Everyon will want to use .NET. MS wins.

      Am I crazy? No. Microsoft has already abandon support for the APPLET Tag in windows XP. And they have announced they will not be supporting the Quicktime EMBED's too. Basically they are phasing out everyone eleses Embedable objects as they prepare the way for .NET. This is also why it was critical for MS to say IE was "an integral part of the OS" despite the fact that it wasn't. It's going to be under .NET.

      So their optimal strategy is to fight it n the grounds that OLE preceeded this and thus was prior art. If they win, there's also a good chance they could effectively own the patent itself since they would now have shown that EMBED's are covered under their OLE patent. On the other hand if they lose after fighting a good fight, no one elese will have stronger grounds for Prior art claims, the patent will be in force. and as explained above MS wins under that scenrio too.

  • Fat chance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quixote ( 154172 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:33AM (#4631787) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft has more lawyers than the hairs on Eolas' CEO's head.

    Microsoft has argued [] in the past that "Internet Explorer" was a generic term and hence can't be trademarked, while at the same time arguing [] that "Windows" is not generic and hence can be trademarked.

    Don't expect Microsoft to roll over and play dead. They'll just file a 1000 lawsuits in a 100 different jurisdictions against Eolas, and eventually bankrupt them.

    • Re:Fat chance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nutrimentia ( 467408 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:49AM (#4631823) Homepage
      Exactly. This is why I believe that Eolas will eventually sell out, perhaps for nigh infinitely rich royalties but mostly likely turn over the patent (gulp!) for a pure gold lump sum. Notice those number Cringley was talking abuot before hand.

      Does anyone really believe that somone would turn down (say) $5,000,000,000 and choose to fight a legal battle that would inevitably destroy you?

      I'll let the rest of you choke on the idea of Microsoft owning that patent...
  • Query: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by handsomepete ( 561396 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:39AM (#4631801) Journal
    What plugins do we still use these days? The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Flash, and I could live without that. ActiveX controls? So what? Applets? That's a pretty broad term, but is there much outside of Java that this might include? What else is there that makes this a big deal if it should apply to all browsers (except the stupid patent bit - I want to know about tangible losses (not "freedom"))?

    I need more information before I start caring one way or the other.
  • Meaning of Eolas (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:46AM (#4631815)
    Isn't Eolas the Irish word for knowledge/science?
  • I support MS here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lonath ( 249354 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:47AM (#4631819)
    Abstract mathematical thought isn't patentable and all software is abstract mathematical thought. Just because people who are "mathematically challenged" think that taking a math problem and giving the numbers in it real-world meaning as in a word problem changes something and magically turns abstract thought into a "new machine" doesn't make it so.

    Don't get suckered in by people who want to see MS suffer. Just remember that the only reason company X with abstract thought patent Y doesn't go after your little OS/FS project Z (or just take away your right to use a computer at all since you violate TONS of abstract thought patents every time you turn on your computer) is that you aren't worth it. Support MS on this one all the way.
    • Re:I support MS here (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:41AM (#4631951) Homepage Journal

      Abstract mathematical thought isn't patentable and all software is abstract mathematical thought.

      Nope, you're wrong. Software is the electronic equivalent of gears and pulleys. Put it this way: I can take any program and make a mechanical equivalent. That mechanical equivalent would be patentable. So why shouldn't software?

      The cotton gin was nothing but an algorithm expressed in mechanics. If you can patent cotton gins, then you can patent software.

      That said, my take on software patents is that it's such a new science that patents should be suspended until all the "obvious" inventions have clear prior art, say 2050. By then, anything new should be novel enough to deserve a patent.

      • The problem with software and business patents isn't that the reasoning behind them, it's the way they are DEFINED.

        Since software and business are both abstract in reality, they are leading to abstract patents. LOTS of them. Software 'methods' are being patented, as are business 'methods' and things aren't being examined closely enough.

        There are an infinite number of ways to express software design A. There is only one way to build the cotton gin, as the patent describes it.

        If someone else builds a 'method to process cotton', no one files for patent infringement. They have to essentially build a copy of the device for it to be infringing on the patent, using the specifically designed spec covered in it.

        Now, if someone patents 'architecture to store dynamic data in solid-state devices' (writing to memory), that currently *is* a valid software patent, and would be covered by our current system. But as I'm sure you know, that is such a broad patent in the software world as ALL programs write to memory.

        But things get passed like this everyday. Look at the PanIP issues, or this current one.

        That being said, if someone were to itemize exactly how the process worked (which would be literally suicide in our closed-source world), then it would be a valid software patent, as we could easily design something else that would perform the same function but using different methods.
        • by Hal-9001 ( 43188 )
          There are an infinite number of ways to express software design A. There is only one way to build the cotton gin, as the patent describes it.
          That is not true. If that were how patents on machines were enforced, thise patents would become basically unenforcable. You can always insert a pair of gears or a belt drive with a 1:1 ratio without altering the functionality of the machine. That's why the patents cover functionality and not the implementation.
  • How about GPP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by triptolemeus ( 538604 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:52AM (#4631833)
    I guess there is no such a thing yet, but what if it was possible to release the patent under something like the GPL, meaning that you can only use the patent in GPL-ed software, resulting in a GPP. M$ would have to OpenSource its browser technology, or forget about everything. Now that would really hurt them, since they only believe in SharedSource.
  • by Molt ( 116343 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:56AM (#4631837)

    It looks like what these people are planning to do is merge with someone who produces a browser and in doing so block the others. All of the others.

    Say they were bought out by AOL, and so Netscape/Mozilla were allowed to use the plugin concept, wouldn't this mean Konquerer, Opera et al. were also well stuffed?

    Now let's look at the situation with IE. A lot of the plugins most IE people use are either created by Microsoft (ActiveX, various Media Player plugins), or companies such as Macromedia (Flash, Shockwave). It won't take too much to actually turn Media Player into a part of the browser, and it's in Macromedia's interests to let MS incorporate their technology too since not doing so would reduce the amount of people interested in producing content using their development tools.

    It's no longer a 'plugin', it's integral to the browser. Less flexible, but a lot of end-users won't really notice. They'll stick with IE anyway since it's 'Part of the OS' (And no, I'm not arguing that one way or another here).

    Opera, and especially Konqueror, don't have this degree of whack with Macromedia, and don't really have too much money to throw at them. Second tier support, at best, I'd reckon, especially is MS begin to play their "Deal with us, or deal with them. Your choice" card.

    Microsoft end up controlling the web technologies that IE supports more so than now, people remain too apathetic to change, other browsers cannot keep up, the Browser War II is a resounding MS victory.

  • by linuxislandsucks ( 461335 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:57AM (#4631838) Homepage Journal
    MS uses Netscape's plugin api.. the only way this company could sue Microsoft and have judge take serious is if it did not limit itself to suing Microsoft..

  • Hypocrisy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lowe0 ( 136140 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:03AM (#4631852) Homepage
    So patents all suck when they're being used against you, but when it can hurt MS, all of a sudden there's a resounding cheer for these guys?

    All they're doing is using their patents to try and start another browser war, knowing that whoever wins has to pay them anyway to use the patents.

    Wouldn't this be a bad thing if it were anyone other than MS? If so, perhaps you should focus less on attacking MS and more on improving your own side of the fence.
  • Even if their case has total merit, the MSFT strategy will be to spend so much on lawyers and drawing out the trial that eventually Eolas will run out of money and be forced to drop the suit, or go bankrupt. Then they'll probably go bankrupt anyway. Then they'll get bought out for pennies on the dollar by BillG.

    I mean, duh. That's a to the letter account of exactly what happened to the US DOJ when they brought the antitrust charges against MSFT. You think the DOJ had shallower pockets than Eolas does?
    • Keep in mind that eolas' lawyers doesn't have dubbleya chopping at thier legs, though...
      • That part's covered by the part when I said MSFT will buy Eolas out, just like they bought out the White House.

        MSFT bought the support they needed from the Republicans, and when GWB got elected, sure enough, the whole tone of the case changes. That's not supposed to happen -- justice is supposed to be politically blind -- but that's what happened.

        Besides, who knows, maybe MSFT *can* get W. chopping at the Eolas lawyers' knees. How hard would it be to imagine Eolas's financials being frozen because they're suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda?

        (I seriously doubt that would actually happen, but it's pretty easy to imagine it happening.)
  • Cringley writes an excellent article here []... "this judgment makes no effort to deprive the company of the fruits of that abuse. This is interesting because the point of Federal anti-trust law is two-fold, to prevent or correct abuses and to deprive from the abusers the benefit -- called the fruit -- of their crimes." Why did the judge not punish M$? A fine was certainly in order. It is baffling. Imagine how the DOJ attorneys who worked this case feel about the empty plate served them by the judge. Meanwhile, the guilty Bill Gates keeps all $40 billion of his illegally acquired loot. Money that will aid him in beating down future competition.
  • by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:20AM (#4631886) Homepage
    or in other words.. Eolas would accept a larger than normal payout.
  • Macromedia seem to stand to suffer a lot from this. Flash will all but die (we can argue whether that's a good or bad thing!) and Director will take a fair hit, and although I don't know their revenue streams from these products I bet they are at least 25%.
  • Pronunciation guide (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ryano ( 2112 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:53AM (#4631985) Homepage

    This is hardly the most important issue, but it occurs to me that the pronunciation of the word 'Eolas' (which is the Irish word for 'knowledge') might not be obvious to non-Irish-speakers. To assist you in participating in heated verbal debate on this topic, I offer the following pronunciation guide:

    o:les (- where the 'e' would be upside-down if I knew how to display that symbol)

    For those of you who don't speak IPA, this means it almost rhymes with 'toeless', and begins with a sound similar to the English word 'owe'.

    I hope this will spare you the embarrassment of using pronunciations such as "Yo-lass" or "Ee-owe-lass".

    • For those of you who don't speak IPA, this means it almost rhymes with 'toeless', and begins with a sound similar to the English word 'owe'.

      I think the important question to ask here is, will other browsers owe less than Microsoft if this case is decided in Eolas's favor? :-)

  • by erat ( 2665 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @11:21AM (#4632059)
    I read through about half of the patent before getting bored. The portion that I managed to read kept refering to client workstations doing all this "hypermedia" stuff through "a browser".

    I may not be up to speed on the official definition of "browser", but web apps don't necessarily need IE, Netscape, Mozilla, etc. to run. Just about any application that is capable of parsing XML and speaking HTTP can handle web applications. So the processing of content distributed over HTTP may not be completely covered by this patent. I seriously doubt that a C++ application that speaks SOAP could be considered a browser. Just a guess.

    Also, it sounds like the patent is limited to inter-process communications between a "browser", an embedded application running in the "first window", and a "hypermedia server" running somewhere out there on a network. It seems to me if web browsers spawn an app like plugger that does NOT communicate with a hypermedia server and does NOT run embedded processes that communicate with the browser (plugger is all the browser speaks to; the application running inside of plugger, whether an applet, ActiveX thingy, document viewer, whatever, has nothing to do with the web browser that spawned plugger, right?) you should be fine.

    I'm sure I'm missing something here. Friendly, informative clarifications are welcome.
  • by Dunkalis ( 566394 ) <> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @11:39AM (#4632113)
    If they filed for it in 1994, this means they preempted the modern Internet. That means this patent is a legitimate patent, and it isn't a bad patent, like the PanIP patent. PanIP sat on their patent, well after the .com boom and bust. These people showed it to MS way back when they started making IE. It is their right to selective patent enforcement, whether it seems right or not.

    MS is essentially doomed if this lawsuit goes through. They may recover, but they'd have to change so much technology, that, in the meantime, many people would migrate to alternative technologies, marginalizing MS.

    Just speculation, though. Don't mind me.
  • by mpsmps ( 178373 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @12:11PM (#4632226)
    The article says that Eolas wants to be acquired, perhaps by an IBM or AOL. Microsoft has an immense patent portfolio that they would not be shy about using to retaliate in kind. If a company with other software products (such as IBM or AOL) tried to enforce a patent against Microsoft, then Microsoft would immediately try to enforce hundreds of their patents against that company. At that point, the company would have to license the patent to Microsoft or stop selling software.
  • by marhar ( 66825 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @02:24PM (#4632851) Homepage
    Michale Doyle wrote a manifesto of sorts about this in 1996: []
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @02:43PM (#4632935) Homepage
    After all, Microsoft has insisted over and over and over again that MSIE is an inseperable part of the Windows operating system.

    So if Eolas wins an injunction, I guess that means that Microsoft has to stop distributing Windows, too.

    Sigh. We can dream, can't we?
  • by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @03:43PM (#4633178)
    If Microsoft is forced to remove ActiveX, Microsoft Java, JavaScript, VBScript, and all that, that would get rid of many security holes in IE. IE might finally be moderately secure.
  • GPL'd Patents (Score:3, Interesting)

    by m0rph3us0 ( 549631 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:31PM (#4634844)
    Hmm... this has gotten me thinking, why not make GPL patent licenses, ie. we agree to license this patent to you on the grounds that any software derived from this is distributed under the GPL

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."