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
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?