W3C Sides With Microsoft In Patent Fight
Thu Oct 30, 3:34 AM ET
Antone Gonsalves, TechWeb News
A leading Internet standards body said Wednesday that
it has taken the unusual step of asking federal
officials to revoke a patent that the organization
claims threatens "substantial economic and technical
damage" to the Web.
The position of the World Wide Web Consortium places
the organization squarely behind Microsoft, which lost
a court battle in August against the patent holder, a
former University of California researcher.
In a letter to James E. Rogan, undersecretary of
commerce for intellectual property at the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office, W3C director Tim Berners-Lee
said, the group "urges the USPTO to initiate a
reexamination of the '906 patent in order to prevent
substantial economic and technical damage to the
operation of [the] World Wide Web."
If the patent is not revoked, the impact would be felt
not just by Microsoft, but by everyone who has created
Web pages and applications written for standards-based
browsers that use technology covered by the patent.
"In many cases, those who will be forced to incur the
cost of modifying Web pages or software applications
do not even themselves infringe the patent-- assuming
it is even valid," Berners-Lee wrote.
It's the first time the W3C has asked that a patent be
U.S. Patent No. 5,838,906 covers technology that
enables a browser to call programs over the Internet
to display streaming audio and video, advanced
graphics, and other content within a single Web page.
The technology has become a standard within HTML, the
language used to write Web pages. The W3C controls the
development of HTML.
Michael Doyle, founder of Eolas Technologies in
Chicago, was granted the patent while he was an
adjunct professor at the University of California, San
Francisco. A federal court jury sided with Eolas in
its patent-infringement suit against Microsoft,
awarding $521 million to the plaintiff.
As a result, Microsoft has said it will make changes
in its Internet Explorer browser, which is used to
access the Web by 90% of computer users. Altering the
browser could force changes in a variety of popular
media software that leverage the application,
including Adobe Systems' Acrobat document reader,
Apple Computer's QuickTime video program, Macromedia's
Flash, and the RealNetworks music player.
In its letter to the patent office, the W3C maintained
that the Eolas patent is invalid because its ideas had
previously been published as "prior art." Prior art
wasn't considered in the Microsoft trial, nor when the
patent was granted, the standards body said.
Therefore, the patent should be invalidated.
If the patent is allowed to stand, the W3C said, it
would cause "cascades of incompatibility to ripple
through the Web."
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