EOLAS patent - settled
I'm not sure how I feel about this; the fall out from the now infamous EOLAS patent dispute has had a fundamental effect on how we interact with the Web when using Internet Explorer, and I have never felt that the change was for the better. Heck, I never supported the patent in the first place(another MVP described it as a "hot button issue" for me in an email dialogue tonight).
Many will not remember this, but a few years ago there was a "developer preview" (my terminology, can't remember exactly what they called it) that was released for a short while for testing that directly addressed the EOLAS patent - it was a horrid thing, and I'm so glad they didn't go ahead with it. Basically, every single control on a web page that required user interaction triggered a dialogue box. I remember testing the changes at Java Boutique, sometimes triggering dozens of dialogue boxes per page.
Thankfully, the original version of the changes to Internet Explorer didn't proceed, and we ended up with the discreet, "Click to activate and use this control" prompt. The prompt is becoming more rare nowadays, as web sites learn how to work around the changes.
The following shots show how Microsoft's adaptations to address the EOLAS patent matured over the years. Here you see the very irritating dialogue box that popped up for every affected control, an older version of the mouseover text, and the final version. Sadly, I can't remember when the change from "Press SPACEBAR or ENTER to activate and use this control" to "Click to activate and use this control" occurred - perhaps one of my readers will share their knowledge of that.
The entire EOLAS brouhaha has been a real roller coaster ride; EOLAS were originally awarded $521 million by jury in 2003 but that award was partially overturned on appeal - one of the facets of the appeal was should the jury have been allowed to consider whether EOLAS patent was/is invalid. The case was due back at court last month for a retrial, but was postponed.
In the midst of the lawsuit, in November 2003 the Deputy Patent Commissioner of the US Patent and TradeMark Office, Stephen G Kunin, ordered the agency's examiners to reconsider the EOLAS patent that had been awarded to the University of California back in 1998. That had only happened 151 times in the last 22 years!!!
This led to the patent being invalidated in March 2004 in a preliminary ruling:
Then, in August 2004, Microsoft has another win, with the Patent Office reported as rejecting all 10 patent claims under review:
But then in 2005, the patent was upheld, although I do note that Microsoft do have permission to fight it out once again after it was issued with a patent covering the same concepts as the EOLAS patent - basically it's a "who invented it first" fight - the hearing was scheduled for June this year; I haven't found any evidence of a result, and that could take up to a year.
Then the cats was put right in the middle of the EOLAS pigeons. A recent US Supreme Court decision cast real doubt on the original award of $521 million when that Court ruled that Microsoft cannot be forced to pay for patent infringements that occur when copies of Windows are made and installed on computers abroad. Remember, the jury originally granted the University of California and Eolas US$1.47 for each of the 354 million copies of the Windows operating system that included the Internet Explorer browser between Nov. 17, 1998, when the patent was issued, and Sept. 30, 2001 - but that count of 354 million was *worldwide*. By reducing the scope of computers caught by patent infringement penalties, EOLAS were looking at a potential reduction in their award from US$521 million award to US$187 million - a massive drop in anyone's language.
On August 2007 EOLAS Chief Operating Officer Mark C Swords released a letter to EOLAS shareholders advising that although he could not talk about the exact terms of the settlement, the Board of EOLAS were anticipating a dividend of between $60 and $72 per share, although I must point out that there has been no direct link drawn between the release of the dividend and the settlement with Microsoft in the letter from Mr Swords. There will be an informal meeting for EOLAS shareholders at 7.00pm on Tuesday 4 September 2007 at the Holiday Inn Select, 1801 Naper Boulevard, Naperville, Illinois, at which the "future business plans of EOLAS, its finances, and "such information regarding the settlement as [EOLAS] are permitted to disclose" will be discussed.
So, it all seems to be over - it has not only been a roller coaster ride, it has also been fascinating watching the US legal system and its events here, and the US Patents Office, and how activities there affected what was happening in the Courts.
In the end, EOLAS got their settlement and Internet Explorer users got the short end of the stick... have EOLAS gone after other those behind other web browsers in the same way as they went after Microsoft? Um, not as far as I know...