Microsoft loses $521m Eolas patent appeal

Patently unfair?

Microsoft has failed to overturn a court ruling that it should pay Eolas $521m for infringing a patent in its Internet Explorer browser technology.

A federal judge yesterday denied a Microsoft motion to suspend the decision until the US Patent Office completed a re-examination into Eolas' patent 5,838,906.

Judge James Zagel wrote that the "reexamination was not reason enough to delay his decision or the appeals process and that such a delay would more significantly hurt Eolas if the patent ultimately remains valid." eWeek reports. Microsoft must now pay interest on the original award, which has already clocked up an additional $45m in costs.

Microsoft has 30 days to muster an appeal, and it says it remains "steadfast in our belief that the Eolas patent is not valid".

In response, Michael Doyle, Eolas founder, told eWeek: "If Microsoft can't read the writing on the wall now than they need a new eye doctor."

In August 2003, Microsoft was found to have infringed Eoloas patent 5,838,906 concerning a mechanism used by Web page authors to embed and automatically invoke certain interactive programs. Microsoft says that its attempt to invoke prior art before the jury was denied.

Eolas' successful assertion of this patent has caused consternation in the Web community. And in October last year, inventor of the World Wide Web and head of the W3C, Tim Berners-Lee, took the unprecedented decision to actively fight a patent case. In a letter, to the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, James Rogan, to insist he review the awarded patent, he argued:

"Removing the improperly disruptive effect of this invalid patent is important not only for the future of the Web, but also for the past ...The practical impact of withholding unrestricted access to the patented technology from use by the Web community will be to substantially impair the usability of the Web for hundreds of millions of individuals in the United States and around the world."

Last October, Microsoft announced minor modifications to Windows and IE, in response to the Eolas case, to sidestep future royalties. In November, the US Patent Office said it would re-investigate the Eolas patent. ®

Related links

The offending patent

Berners Lee's letter

The W3C’s case against the patent

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