Eolas loses landmark Web patent case

In a rare victory against software patent, a jury in the U.S. District Court in East Texas ruled that Eolas did not have a patent on the interactive Web.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The idea that someone could actually own a patent on the Web may sounds ridiculous to you. Alas, in these days of intellectual property (IP) lawsuits, it isn't only possible, it's actually happened. For years, Eolas has been successfully suing major companies like Microsoft for violation of its Web patents. So when Eolas went after Amazon, Google, Yahoo and other Internet powers for running Website with “interactive” features such as streaming video it was no laughing matter. But, in a victory against software patents, a jury in the U.S. District Court in East Texas, ruled against Eolas.

Eolas had long claimed that its two software patents 7,599,985 and 5,838,906 covered much of we now consider part and parcel of today's Web. Microsoft finally surrendered and other technology giants like Texas Instruments, Oracle and JP Morgan Chase paid off Eolas. But other companies weren't so quick to give up. Experts, like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's creator; Pei-Yuan Wei, creater of the early Viola Web browser; and Dave Raggettm who created the <embed> tag have long contended that Eolas' claims were invalid.

While it was clear to the experts—and to your author who was the first person to report on the Web back in 1993--that Eolas' claims were bogus, until this decision Eolas had managed to maintain its patents against all comers.

In the usually software-patent friendly U.S. District Court in East Texas though Eolas received a rude shock. After years of preparation, the jury took only a few hours to rule against Eolas on all points. Worse still, from Eolas' viewpoint, the three upcoming trials that had been scheduled to rule on infringement and damages for Google, Yahoo and other companies, have also been canceled. Eolas will now need to restart its patent litigation machine.

Unfortunately, Eolas will probably do just that. The good news is that it will likely take years before Eolas will appear once more in a courtroom to take up this battle again.

Still, as Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media , said on Google+ about the decision, “The current patent system is a terrible tax on invention, as it requires real inventors to spend time in court rather than focusing on making real things happen. We must remember that the patent system was supposed to 'promote the progress of science and the useful arts,' not to enrich people who know how to work the legal system.” Unfortunately, he's correct and while this decision is a good one, the fight against software patents, even these specific ones, is still far from done.

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