Eolas Is Baaaaaaaaack; And It's Suing Everyone Over Embeddable Web Widgets

from the because-otherwise... dept

Well, here we go again. As you may recall, Eolas is a company that claimed to hold a patent (5,838,906) on browser plugins. The company sued Microsoft, and a long drawn-out battle ensued. Even though web inventor Tim Berners-Lee presented prior art and asked the USPTO to invalidate Eolas' ridiculously broad and obvious patent, the USPTO eventually upheld the patent (after initially rejecting claims). Even as Microsoft began presenting evidence that it actually had made use of the technology in question before Eolas applied for its patent, losses in the courts and the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case eventually resulted in Microsoft agreeing to settle rather than continue to fight.

Since then (two years ago), plenty of people have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, concerning Eolas' plans to sue others. Now we know why it waited. It's now received a new patent -- a continuation patent, which is often used to abuse the patent system by putting forth a broad patent, then filing for continuations to make changes that let an earlier "invention" cover technologies that later become popular. In this case, the new patent (7,599,985), which basically just extends the earlier patent on browser plugins, and extends it to javascript widgets. Yes, those embeddable widgets used all over the web? It appears that Eolas thinks that those are infringing and everyone should pay up.

The new lawsuit has been filed against Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, Go Daddy, Google, J.C. Penney, JPMorgan Chase, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Playboy Enterprises, Staples, Sun, Texas Instruments, Yahoo, and YouTube. Apparently, starting small isn't part of the plan. Not surprisingly, Eolas filed in Eastern Texas using McKool Smith -- one of the most popular law firms representing patent holding firms in East Texas.

I am honestly curious how patent system defenders, who are also programmers, can defend this. I'm sure non-programmers will claim that the patent is valid, but I can't imagine how anyone who has any knowledge of basic programming principles can claim that such a patent is valid. In the meantime, tons of companies doing an incredibly basic thing on the web will now have to waste millions of dollars fighting a ridiculous patent lawsuit. How is this promoting innovation in any way shape or form?

Filed Under: browsers, embeddable, patents, plugins, widgets
Companies: adobe, amazon, apple, blockbuster, citigroup, ebay, eolas, frito-lay, godaddy, google, j.c. peney, jpmorgan chase, microsoft, office depo, perot systems, playboy, stabples, sun, texas instruments, yahoo, youtube


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  1. icon
    KGWagner (profile), 8 Oct 2009 @ 6:42am

    Patent Defending Programmers

    Mike said: "I am honestly curious how patent system defenders, who are also programmers, can defend this."

    I certainly can't speak for all programmers, but I'm quite sure that the subset of programmers who also support software patents is quite small. You simply can't be as shortsighted and oblivious to reality as you'd have to be in order to support software patents and still be a programmer at the same time.

    The only way I could see that being true would be perhaps in the case of a novice programmer who "discovers" the binary sort or the linked list, and is naive enough to think nobody's ever thought of it before or that it wouldn't be obvious to the first person who developed a need for the algorithm. A child like that might believe he could run to the patent office and lock that little bit of prescience down in order to get rich, never realizing that it's the equivalent of giving someone directions to get from Michigan to Ohio. There are a million ways to do it; simply documenting the idea that you can do it is foolish in the extreme, and undeserving of patent protection.


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