Judge upholds Eolas ruling against Microsoft

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"Patents pending,"

A federal judge has upheld a $520.6 million jury verdict against Microsoft Corp. for patent infringement, even as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is re-examining the disputed patent. Now held by the University of California and Eolas Technologies Inc., the patent is for Web-browser technology often referred to as plug-ins or applets.

USPTO officials had agreed in November to re-examine the patent after receiving what has been reported as a barrage of complaints from the World Wide Web Consortium and other software-industry groups. W3C is a nonprofit standards organization that develops software for the Web.

The consortium's director, Tim Berners-Lee, had urged the USPTO to re-examine the validity of the patent, citing early documents of the consortium as evidence that plug-in technology had already been described before the patent office made its award. In PTO parlance, the "prior art" claim made by Berners-Lee raised a substantial question about at least one claim in the patent, according to Brigid Quinn, a USPTO spokesperson.

Under former USPTO director James Rogan, agency officials quickly agreed to re-examine the patent award. Critics of the award cited concerns that Microsoft was planning to change features of its Internet Explorer browser to avoid risking patent infringement. Such a move by Microsoft would potentially break, or make unusable, millions of Web sites, critics said.

News reports indicate the federal judge in the case upheld the verdict and denied a motion by Microsoft to delay any decision in the case until the USPTO has had time to reconsider the patent's validity. Microsoft can appeal the judgment and, in the meantime, continue offering its Internet Explorer browser without modifying it.

Eolas Technologies was formed by Michael Doyle, who is a former researcher at the University of California at San Francisco. Doyle formed the company to license the browser patent, which he shares with the university.

The USPTO's re-examination of the patent could take at least a year, said a spokesperson for the agency.

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