US Patent Office upholds Eolas patent

The US Patent Office has upheld the controversial Eolas patent for calling programs from across the Internet. The announcement is a blow to Microsoft, which is engaged in a long running dispute with Eolas and the University of California – the organisations that sued the software giant over patent infringement.

The disputed patent 5,838,906 describes technologies that allow a browser to call programs over the Internet such as Microsoft’s own ActiveX, which is often used to display a wide range of multimedia content such as streaming audio and video in a Web page.

In 2003, a jury award damages of $520 million to Eolas and the University of California which later rose to $565.9 million when interest was added. Microsoft went to the U.S. Court of Appeals which, in March this year, sent the case back to the District Court in Chicago to be reheard awaiting the results of the Patent Office re-examination.

In its ‘Reasons for Patentability/Confirmation’ notice, the patent examiner rejected the arguments for annulling the patent claims for the Web-browser technology as well as the evidence presented as ‘prior art’. The examiner said that the Viola technology from the early 1990s does ‘not teach nor fairly suggest that instant ‘906 invention, as claimed.’

James E. Holst, the University’s lawyer commented, ‘We are gratified that the patent office’s re-examination has validated its original evaluation. This decision ensures that the patent rights of the public institution that developed this technology, a significant innovation with wide-reaching public benefits and use, will be protected’.

Undaunted Redmond intends to fight on. In a statement, Microsoft said it continues to pursue its appeal against the patent infringement case and expects to see the case through to a ‘successful resolution’.

If Eolas finally prevails, it could have a huge effect on the workings of the Internet. Among the commonly used software that could be affected by the patent are Macromedia Flash, QuickTime, RealOne Player, Acrobat Reader, Sun’s Java Virtual Machine, and Windows Media Player.

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