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Eolas claims royalties for browser apps and plug-ins

Berners-Lee warns of disaster for internet

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Eolas Technologies has begun its trial against Adobe over two patents that, it claims, gives it the rights to embedded browser applications and plug-in and AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) web development techniques.

The case, which began this week in the notoriously patent-happy US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, revolves around two US patents: No. 5,838,906 on "Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document," granted in 1998, and No. 7,599,985 for similar technology granted in 2009.

Eolas filed its case in 2009, claiming that these patents give them the rights to pretty much any form of embedded app or plug-in run inside a single webpage, and sued some of the biggest names in the technology world, including Adobe, Oracle, Apple, Texas Instruments, Yahoo! and YouTube. Some of those companies, including Oracle and TI, have settled out of court, but the rest are carrying on, with Adobe first in the dock.

The creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has been flown in the Texas court to testify in the case on Tuesday, Wired reports, and said that the patent claims could cause serious repercussions for the internet as a whole and urged the eight person jury to reject Eolas’ case.

"Removing the improperly disruptive effect of this invalid patent is important not only for the future of the Web, but also for the past," Berners-Lee wrote in an earlier hearing on the patent. He goes on to argue: "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."

The court is now trying to decide the validity of the patents, and then separate trials will be held to determine the level of infringement and any damages that may be forthcoming. An Eolas representative confirmed the details of the case with El Reg and said a judgment could be reached on the first case by the weekend. None of the companies cited in the suit had any comment so far beyond the standard "we do not comment on pending litigation," from a few.

You might be wondering how Eolas thinks it can get away with this kind of case. After all, a retroactive claim on what makes up a large part of the internet looks like hubris, or at the very least a lost cause. But Eolas has a histroy in this area; it took on Microsoft in an eight-year case over its first patent and Internet Explorer and effectively won.

In 2003, Eolas won $520m in the case, and Redmond took it all the way to the US Supreme Court before settling out of court. The exact terms of the settlement are sealed, but the University of California (part owner of Eolas) reported making over $30m on the deal, suggesting a nine-figure deal. Eolas now has the funds for a long fight and a potentially huge payout to be had. UC and Redmond have no comment on the matter today.

One advantage for the company is that it has won the right to have the session heard in the small Texan city of Tyler, named after the tenth US president and home to the world’s largest rose garden. It’s also part of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas - which has a record of siding with patent holders despite strong evidence of prior art. The defendants wanted the case to be heard in the more tech-savvy Northern California courts, but the Texas authorities ruled that Eolas had a business presence in the area and so the case would be heard there.

“Contrary to what Defendants may believe, many businesses choose to relocate to Texas and to Tyler, Texas each year for reasons that are unrelated to venue. Eolas points out the tax benefits it receives in Texas, and additionally, many people find that Tyler is a wonderful place to live and work,” said District Judge Leonard Davis’ ruling on the matter.

Nevertheless, it’s going to be a hectic couple of months in the "Rose Capital of the Nation” and a lot of companies will be hoping they won’t get pricked. ®

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