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Life after Eolas

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Microsoft today responded to its recent $521m legal defeat in the Eolas patent lawsuit with "modest" changes to Windows and Internet Explorer. Additionally the Redmond giant promised to come up with measures that web developers who use IE can take "to ameliorate or eliminate the impact of the ruling".

The ruling in favour of Chicago area firm Eolas centres on patents which the company registered almost a decade ago for technology that allows a browser to automatically run embedded applications on a remote web site without opening new windows.

Eolas - which stands for "Embedded Objects Linked Across Systems" and is also the Gaelic word for "Knowledge - is the exclusive licensee of a patent owned by the University of California. In the case, Eolas asserted that the patent covered one specific mechanism used by Web page authors to embed and automatically invoke interactive programs.

Eolas, founder Michael Doyle and his former employer, the University of California, successfully sued Microsoft for patent infringement after proving that software giant had incorporated the patented technology into Internet Explorer. Although Microsoft asserted that the patent was invalid due to pre-existing inventions, the jury still found against the firm on August 11, 2003 and rule it should pay $521 million in damages. The parties are still in the process of submitting their post-trial motions and briefs.

"This ruling affects more than just Microsoft; it affects a broad array of partners and customers -- including companies that many would view as competitors," said Michael Wallent, general manager of the Windows Client Platform at Microsoft.

He promised to develop steps that will "reduce or eliminate the ruling's impact on consumers and other companies, even as we appeal it".

Microsoft's work-around involves minor changes to Internet Explorer's handling of some Web pages that use ActiveX Controls, such as Macromedia Flash, Apple QuickTime, RealNetworks RealOne, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sun Java Virtual Machine and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

The company said it anticipates that the these changes will be deployed "by early next year", and warned that Web developers who ignore the revisions will see their sites display a dialog box before the browser loads the ActiveX Control.

Other companies providing specialised documentation related to this change are listed on the Web site at http://msdn.microsoft.com/ieupdate/ . ®

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