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Microsoft-tested browser prosecution snares tech giants

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Tiny Eolas Technologies is taking tech giants and major customers to court claiming they infringed its patents for working with online interactive content.

Eolas has filed suit against Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Sun Microsystems, YouTube, Blockbuster, JP Morgan Chase, JC Penny and Playboy Enterprises, among others.

The company, which has chosen the litigant-friendly US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to fight the case, claimed the companies infringed on two of its patents.

It's the second outing for one of the patents - the '906 patent - that Eolas fought Microsoft over in an eight-year legal and patent battle claiming infringement.

That case gained notoriety because web daddy Tim Berners-Lee took the unprecedented step of stepping in, claiming Eolas' action and the court's $521m award in favor of Eolas in 2003 threatened the web.

Berners-Lee said the award would wipe out millions and billions of web pages from the history of the web as Eolas had decided to use their ownership of patent '906 to actively sue Microsoft and to profit from the patent, breaking something - the web - he helped create.

Increasingly, it looks like that Microsoft case was a testing ground for this new action.

Eolas attorney Mike McKool said: "What distinguishes this case from most patent suits is that so many established companies named as defendants are infringing a patent that has been ruled valid by the Patent Office on three occasions."

Patent '906, awarded in 1998, was confirmed this February by the USPTO as a result of review following that Microsoft case.

The Microsoft case was quietly settled almost a decade later with Microsoft paying Eolas an undisclosed sum after Microsoft build a work-around for IE to sidestep the Eolas patent.

Eolas chairman Michael Doyle said in a statement it was unfair for others to profit from someone else's innovation without payment. "All we want is what's fair".

Patent '906 effectively claims rights over any form of content embedded and run inside a single web page. According to Eolas, the second patent in question - '985, awarded by the USPTO this month - is a continuation of '906 that "allows websites to add fully-interactive embedded applications to their online offerings through the use of plug-in and AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) web development techniques." ®

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