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Microsoft Nailed by Software Patent 668

Posted by michael
from the software-patents-dangerous-to-everyone dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It was just announced that Microsoft lost the case where it was accused of violating Eolas' patent on embedded applications in the Internet Explorer browser. They have been fined $521 million in damages."
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Microsoft Nailed by Software Patent

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  • by Plix (204304) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:00AM (#6672322) Homepage
    A little patent-portfolio company did in one suit what the Fed couldn't in 5 years.
    • by dago (25724)
      you mean get rich and retire ?
    • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by realdpk (116490)
      Which of the Fed's patents did Microsoft violate, exactly? I was under the impression it was an anti-trust case.
      • by EJB (9167) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @03:10AM (#6673150) Homepage
        I believe they claimed Microsoft violated US patents # 000.000,000,001 (the '1 patent) and # 000,000,000,002 (the '2 patent).

        The '1 patents lays out a "way to rule a country comprised of dozens of states" and the '2 patent describes the taxation of citizens of a huge country.
    • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by ar32h (45035) <{ten.idopat} {ta} {adj}> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:23AM (#6672493) Homepage Journal
      Eolas [eolas.com] is not a patent profolio company by a long shot, they are a pure R&D [eolas.com] company.
      You can see some of the things thay have patented here [eolas.com].
      I seem to recall a article [pbs.org] where the founder of Eolas was talking about a patent war against Microsoft, not because they wanted royalties but because they objected to the I.E.ization of the web.
      Notice that Eolas is going after Microsoft, not Sun or Mozilla.
      Standard practice for patent profolio companies is to prey on the weaker first. Eolas went after the main standard breaker with their lawsuit. I think this should give us some hope about Eolas's intentions.
      • by Steeltoe (98226) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:28AM (#6672821) Homepage
        IT DOESN'T MATTER what their "intentions" are.. This case clearly shows how silly software patent-laws are. With guns and sanctions they dictate who can use what technology, because someone were "first". Come on! Most of us stopped such silliness in the kindergarden.

        What makes this a rather ironical and humorous case though, is the target - behemot Microsoft. It'll probably be overruled in the next run, but nobody is safe with such laws. Who's going to risk developing stuff when you're sued left and right before you even know somebody filed a patent for it while you RDed? This can potentially kill off alot of inventing. Without somebody with lots of money backing you up, it's a risky business.. Which is what the big corporations want anyways, so maybe Microsoft will settle this one in the end..

        It's not amazing at all really, it's Astounding.
      • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:59AM (#6672920)
        Eolas is not a patent profolio company by a long shot, they are a pure R&D company.

        The truly important question is whether or not the company actually produces anything. If they do, then they're vulnerable to a countersuit involving patent infringement.

        "IP" holding companies are some of the most dangerous creatures in the technological world today. The reason is simple: the traditional way the patent game is played is that most companies would collect patents for use as a defense against patent infringement suits. When the inevitable suit happened, they'd break out their own patent portfolio and, hopefully, find at least one that the company suing them was infringing. Both companies would agree to cross-license their patents and life is good again.

        Companies that don't have a patent portfolio are at a disadvantage in that game, of course, but the upside is that patent infringement suits were relatively rare, so one could do development work in relative peace. Only if you were wildly successful as a result would you face an infringement suit, and at that point you'd generally have the ability to pay for a licensing arrangement -- unless the initiator of the suit was a competitor (as was the case in, e.g., Amazon vs. B&N). The overall system wasn't perfect, of course, but it worked well enough. Certainly free software was reasonably safe from such suits because there would be no money to be had from such a suit.

        Enter the "IP" holding company. The problem with such a company is that there is no defense against them. The traditional method of cross-licensing doesn't work because such a company doesn't infringe on any patents. It can't, because the company itself doesn't actually make anything. As often (probably more, actually) as not, these "IP" holding companies don't even invent anything. Their sole purpose in life is to suck money out of companies that do invent and build things. That can include any company that does a lot of free software work, like IBM and RedHat.

        I think these "IP" companies are among the greatest dangers our technology-driven world faces today, because there is no effective remedy against them, short of legislation. And we all know how likely it is that that will be of overall benefit.

        • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebe@elis ... .be minus author> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @04:04AM (#6673303) Homepage
          Certainly free software was reasonably safe from such suits because there would be no money to be had from such a suit.
          And now that big companies like IBM and Red Hat are playing the Free software game, that will probably change soon enough.
        • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by aggieben (620937) <aggieben@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @08:26AM (#6674037) Homepage Journal
          Enter the "IP" holding company. The problem with such a company is that there is no defense against them. The traditional method of cross-licensing doesn't work because such a company doesn't infringe on any patents. It can't, because the company itself doesn't actually make anything. As often (probably more, actually) as not, these "IP" holding companies don't even invent anything. Their sole purpose in life is to suck money out of companies that do invent and build things. That can include any company that does a lot of free software work, like IBM and RedHat.

          I think these "IP" companies are among the greatest dangers our technology-driven world faces today, because there is no effective remedy against them, short of legislation. And we all know how likely it is that that will be of overall benefit.


          What if the system was changed so that once you have filed a patent and it is accepted by the U.S. patent office, you get a year (or some specific time period) to implement the patented concept in a product, or the patent expires? Would that not sufficiently defend the industry against patent portfolio sharks?
    • Re:It's amazing.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Malcontent (40834) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:53AM (#6672667)
      What is interesting to me is that MS already settled with AOL for over 700 million for what they did to netscape. If this verdict stands (and god knows MS can drag it out forever and has friends in very high places) it will have cost MS over a billion dollars to gain dominance over the web.

      I wonder if they feel like it was worth it. Billion is pocket change to MS but still it would have been cheaper to just license the patent.
  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by freeze128 (544774) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:01AM (#6672330)
    This means there will probably just be another IE service pack that breaks more web pages....
    • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mr. Troll (202208) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:08AM (#6672392) Homepage
      Yeah, just some other no name company sitting on a patent waiting for someone to do something with it......then skimming profits.....this is the kind of things that killlllls delelopment

      Patent whores who just sit around and WAIT for someone to sue.....heaven FORBID they actuall DO anything with their patent.....no, just sit and wait...just like SCO....just like those creeps who screwed EBAY....THIS is the problem with the web today
  • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab @ g mail.com> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:01AM (#6672332) Journal
    I don't think so. Have you seen the invocation of some embedded applets in IE? Nothing like Netscape.

    I have my feelings against Microsoft, but this smells like being in the right place at the right time, and PTO's own trademarked brand of ignorance.
    • by shird (566377) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:14AM (#6672439) Homepage Journal
      If you have a read of the patent, youll agree it is one of those broad catch all going to try milk this later type of patents.... I also think that if they could get money out of MS, then Netscape, shockwave, ICQ, and many others are all to come.
    • by Greeneland (598616) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:43AM (#6672607)
      There is an interesting paragraph in the cnet article about this case, pasted below: Additionally, the judge in the district court case will hear evidence in the coming weeks on a counterclaim from Microsoft. The software giant said that Eolas' patents are invalid and that an inventor name Pei Wei, who worked at O'Reilly and Associates, came up with similar technology, but at an earlier time. A Microsoft representative said that Eolas knew of his work, which makes their lawsuit inequitable. A quick google groups search shows a number of interesting posts involving Pei Wei.. such as http://groups.google.com/groups?q=Pei+Wei&hl=en&lr =&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&scoring=r&as_drrb=b&as_mind=12 &as_minm=5&as_miny=1981&as_maxd=11&as_maxm=8&as_ma xy=1994&selm=93020.102722RBNTJC%40rohvm1.rohmhaas. com&rnum=5
    • by mrseigen (518390) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:58AM (#6672695) Homepage Journal
      This is definitely one of these patents invented by marketing/business weasels in order to try and grab as much revenue as possible.

      It's really sad -- the PTO appears to be set up to reward idiots who patent a really simple (but hard to implement) idea and then demand royalties from whoever does actually implement it. There needs to be a big overhaul.
  • by slash-tard (689130) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:02AM (#6672345)
    Microsoft = bad

    Patents = bad

    So is this good? Must be some sort of paradox if so...
  • hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Coneasfast (690509) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:03AM (#6672358)
    Patents on the simple idea of plug-ins and applets? This seems almost as ridiculous as the amazon patent [gnu.org] on one click purchasing.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Thing 1 (178996) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:52AM (#6672899) Journal
      The amazon one-click patent really bugged me. I mean, what is the least energy you can expend on purchasing something? Without the computer being able to read your mind, it's ... one click. It should be obvious to anyone who knows the subject area.

      So I propose to file a patent on a two-click process, so we can go after B&N and Borders who are avoiding Amazon's patent. Then we should file a 3-click, and 4-click, and 42-click patent...

  • by MikeFM (12491) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:05AM (#6672371) Homepage Journal
    I dislike Microsoft but I still don't see that this helps the development community or users at all. Software patents are stupid and a bad idea.. even when being used against that monopoly we love to hate. Anyone with an interest in the freedom of developers to develop what they want and the freedom of users to choose the best product for their needs can't see this as anything but a loss.
    • by Vicegrip (82853) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:04AM (#6672717) Journal
      Microsoft getting fined this way doesn't turn my crank at all. Also, I'm beginning to wonder why they allow jury trials for issues that are as technically complexe as this, nevermind allowing patents on processes and software in the first place...

      This is as stupid a patent as they come: what's a plugin or an applet? Fundamentally it is all in the same family of idea as of linked libraries-- bloody fundamental to every piece of software out there -- except that in this case the software is dynamically downloaded by a browser and then executed within the security context of the browser.

      521 million? I'm all for roasting Microsoft when they deserve it, but this is nothing they should have to pay for. Next thing you know Mozilla will get into trouble for having downloadable theme plugins.
      • All data is software. An image file is nothing but a program that tells the computer how to order pixels in a defined size. Running a plugin or applet (which I mostly dislike) is no different than loading an image. It's all inline programs. The app loads the webpage inside itself, the webpage loads other apps inside itself, etc. *sighs* It semms to often most people don't recognize that all digitized data that follows a format is software.
  • by Scalli0n (631648) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:05AM (#6672373) Homepage
    From the article: "Eolas had argued that the technology for "plug-ins" and "applets" made it possible for Microsoft to compete against the Netscape Navigator browser."

    In other news, SCO has also sued Mozilla for the use of "HTML" and "JavaScript" which have made it possible to be used by more than one person...

  • by pHatidic (163975) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:06AM (#6672378)
    You may have noticed that this article seemingly falls into 7 different categories. Let me break them down for you so you can see for yourself how each one applies to this insightful article.

    Firstly, the Bill-Gates-As-Cyborg is representative of Microsoft being fucked.

    Secondly, the IE icon with the broken halo is representative of Microsoft falling from grace.

    Thirdly, the circuitboard was just misclick by Taco.

    Fourthly, the patent pending icon is representative of Cyborg-Bill being stabbed in the back by a rusty spoon.

    Fifthly, the hat on briefcase thing also represents Microsoft being fucked.

    Sixthly, the internet thing represents my posting this on slashdot about Microsoft being fucked.

    Lastly, the newspaper icon represents joe sixpack reading in weekly world news tomorrow that Microsoft is being fucked.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:06AM (#6672381)
    Boo: Overbroad Patents!
    Boo: This patent is stupid!
    Boo: Microsoft in general!
    Yay: Microsoft has to pay money!
    Boo: It's too little money!
    Solution to this:
    Yay: Mozilla!
    Yay: Slashdot!
  • Extra links (Score:4, Informative)

    by shird (566377) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:08AM (#6672399) Homepage Journal
    Some karma whoring links others might find interesting.

    EOLAS SUES MICROSOFT FOR INFRINGEMENT OF PATENT... [eolas.com]

    The patent [164.195.100.11]
  • by Dalroth (85450) * on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:09AM (#6672402) Homepage Journal
    Before you start bitching about Slashdot user's being hypocrites, keep in mind that Slashdot is a community filled with 1000's of a users who all have very different opinions on everything.

    I do not support this ruling, because I do not support patents in any way shape or form. That does not mean the Slashdot community as a whole feels the same.

    In fact, it's very hard to determine just what it is the Slashdot community DOES believe, because more often than not it's the negativity that makes it through the ranking system more than anything else.

    Some people will call this a great victory for Open Source. I don't. I think it's a travesty, but that's my opinion and mine alone. Other's may or may not agree, but please don't let one person's opinion spoil your view of the entire community.

    Bryan
    • by j1mmy (43634) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:13AM (#6672430) Journal
      Your post is completely and utterly worthless. Mine is of similar caliber.
    • by stickb0y (260670) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:16AM (#6672772)
      I do not support this ruling, because I do not support patents in any way shape or form.

      Patents or just software patents?

      Software patents are bad because their lifetime is an eternity in the software world, giving them undue monopolistic power. This is exacerbated by the fact that most of the patent examiners don't seem to have the direct knowledge or the familiarity with computing history to differentiate between trivial ideas and really unique, innovative stuff.

      (And then there's also the problem of idiots flooding the patent office with ridiculous patents.)

      However, the patent system as originally envisioned by the U.S. forefathers was a pretty good idea. It gives inventors an incentive to fully disclose the workings of their inventions to the public in exchange for a limited-time monopoly.

  • Bad precedent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eloquence (144160) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:09AM (#6672409) Homepage
    Software patents being enforced are always a bad precedent, no matter against whom. Hopefully, big corporations will wake up to the patent scam, which primarily benefits lawyers and idea pirates. Innovation does not come from patents, according to Cisco's VP of "Intellectual Property". He stated in an interview [cisco.com]:

    Patents don't stimulate innovation, they capture and protect innovation. My experience at Cisco is that the ability to get patents is not what inspires new developments. Instead, competition has been the major stimulus of innovation at Cisco. Our engineering teams are motivated by the desire to quickly turn their ideas into products and services that customers want, solutions that will help our customers improve their productivity. They don't ask "can we patent this?" before deciding whether to create new solutions.

    In order to "capture and protect" innovation, companies register more and more patents each year [heise.de], often just to prevent others from suing them. But some companies register patents for the sole purpose of engaging in legal warfare -- a risky gamble with potentially huge prizes.

    The biggest danger inherent in software patents is to free software. Megacorporations can easily collect thousands of patents on trivial processes to use against open source programmers who have little means to defend themselves. Wait for Microsoft and others to attack on this front -- that would be nice extra FUD fodder with all the SCO crap going on right now. To ignore software patents as Linus Torvalds does is the wrong approach. They must be eliminated entirely.

    • Re:Bad precedent (Score:3, Interesting)

      by servoled (174239)
      Congratulations on the best out of context quote I have seen today. Read the question right before it:

      Why are patents important for continued innovation at Cisco?

      Robert Barr: Cisco is recognized worldwide for helping create the Internet as it exists today and changing the way people communicate. There's no doubt that Cisco is a highly innovative company. By innovative, I mean that Cisco excels at transforming new ideas into services and products that customers need to improve the productivity of their

  • by notAyank (597271) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:10AM (#6672415)
    Can somebody explain this to me? How can this patent exist when in 1998 there were applets / plugins running inside Netscape Navigator doing all the things the patented method does:
    1. They were embedded in the "hypermedia" document
    2. They could communicate with the browser
    3. They could communicate with the server (at least by using sockets and datagrams)
    4. By doing this they were "providing the user of the client computer with interactive features and allowing the user to have access to greater computing power than may be available at the user's client computer."
    Sorry, but I think MS should be in the clear here.
  • by Drakonian (518722) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:10AM (#6672416) Homepage
    Monday is Microsoft hating day. But Tuesday is patent-hating day. Well, since it was posted at 11:58 EST I guess I'll stick with Microsoft hating.

    Stupid Microsoft! J00 G0+ 0W#3D! Thatt'll show you to write crappy code! Now you have to PAY. MUHAHAHAHAH.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:12AM (#6672420)
    Can you say, 'Rounding Error'?

    I knew you could.
  • Link to patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by dze (89612) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:13AM (#6672425) Homepage

    Link to the actual patent [uspto.gov].

    I'm not much at reading patents but this looks like the usual silly IT patent that could apply to just about anything. Can't see this as a good thing at all.

  • So (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mao che minh (611166) * on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:13AM (#6672426) Journal
    $521,000,000 USD isn't much to Microsoft. They probably have 8 times this amount saved up for legal issues anyways. In the end, Microsoft is going to pull an IBM on this company and make them sorry for ever suing them. Whoever had the balls to do this to Microsoft probably won't be around much longer.

    Just look at the political careers of all the *major* politicians that were invloved in the original MS anti-trust case. If they didn't politically stagnate then MS made them go away - quietly, and expensively.

    Monopolies can not be brought down with small lawsuits anymore. It will take a vast reversal in public opinion, many brave and ambitious politicians, and some fierce competition. So far we have 1 out of 3.

  • Great News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Henry V .009 (518000) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:15AM (#6672446) Journal
    This is the best news that I've heard for a while.

    Why, you ask?

    Because, my friends, Microsoft is now going to spends billions to kill the current patent system. They're going to buy every Congressman from Alaska to Puerto Rico to shut this scam down. Bill Gates is going to spend so much on politicians that they'll still be standing in line to give him blow jobs twenty years from now. After Microsoft is finished, the only debate will be whether to use the patent authority building for Total Information Awareness Headquarters or turn it into a Fritz Chip manufacturing plant.
    • Re:Great News (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mOdQuArK! (87332) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:55AM (#6672679)
      Because, my friends, Microsoft is now going to spends billions to kill the current patent system.

      No, they'll just pay to help put caps on jury-awards. That way they can still use the patent laws to bankrupt/stifle small companies/open source advocates who might be competition, but not worry about being put out of business because they ran roughshod over someone else's patent.

    • Re:Great News (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bogie (31020) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:09AM (#6672743) Journal
      "Microsoft is now going to spends billions to kill the current patent system."

      What in the world makes you think that? MS has a lot more to gain from patents then they do from them going away.

      Sure MS isn't as big a patent player as some of the other companies, but if some of their recent patents hold up the Computer and Electronics world will be paying MS royalties for the next 20 years.

      No MS isn't killing anything, especially the golden goose which is going to ensure they get paid.
  • by dpille (547949) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:15AM (#6672448)
    The patent in question is U.S. Patent No. 5,838,906, granted in 1998.

    I follow the patent stories here all the time, and I'm used to trying to take the scattered details of whatever news service we're linking to to find the actual patents. Just wanted to point out that it's refreshing to find a major information source using actual patent nos.
  • patent warchests (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mitomac (167890) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:18AM (#6672460) Homepage
    IBM, Microsoft, Apple all have giant patent portfolios. When a small company like Eolas can nail microsoft for a patent violation it does not bode well for linux. If IBM can b*tch slap SCO with patent violations regarding hierarchial graphical menus. What is to stop them or any other patent hoarder from making the same claim against linux? Currently, these companies refrain from suing each other because they know the other company likely has patents they are violating...But what ace in the hole patents does linux have up its sleeve?

    mitomac
    • None, as far as I know. In a way, that's kind of the point of free software, and it appears to be Linus approach to the whole issue. Having said that, there may well be indivual developers and companies with secret stashes of IP fodder tucked quietly away.

      It would be very cool if MS stomps this company on appeal, and hopefully the whole software patent concept with it. But I don't think they will do that - it's probably worth more to them to lose this battle, and have their own "IP" portfolio's worth vali

  • by femto (459605) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:20AM (#6672481) Homepage
    What's to stop the company from going after Mozilla authors as well, or authors of any other free software program that uses plugins?

    Also, from the article:

    "We believe the evidence will ultimately show that there was no infringement of any kind, and that the accused feature in our browser technology was developed by our own engineers based on preexisting Microsoft technology."

    Isn't that irrelevant, and why software patents are 'evil'? It doesn't matter whether your work was completely independent. If it is patented, your stuffed.

    Having said that though, check out the case Frearson v Loe, dated 1878 (google is your friend). I gather (in my naive IANAL way) that it is an often quoted precedent. The case determined that non-commercial experimentation is okay, even in the face of patents. Can writing free software be considered to be an experiment?

  • by raw-sewage (679226) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:24AM (#6672503)
    As much as I like to see Microsoft get slammed, it scares me to think what might happen if these patent-enforcement lawsuits were directed at the open source community. I didn't bother to actually research the details of that patent referenced in this case, but what if Mozilla or Konqueror or another open source browser infringes on the same patent?

    Microsoft is a nice target for lawsuits: they're big, visible and have lots of money. However, what if an open source browser had a more significant market share? Wouldn't that same patent-portfolio group come demanding royalties?

    This is a more general concern that scares me; it may be tested by the SCO-IBM case(s). Say a company patents some software technology. What if the developers working on that code go home at night and use the same concepts in some open source projects? I emphasize concepts because the developers are smart enough not to copy code, but a patent covers an idea, not a specific implementation.

    A lot of this paranoia comes from my co-worker, who is pro-Microsoft and very much anti-open source. He is absolutely convinced that open source is communism, and that it clashes with capitalism. He loves to suggest the above scenario and predict that the GPL will ultimately fail in court...

    ...because it blocks someone's right to profit. Not only can you not get anything for free in the U.S., but it's getting to the point where you can't give anything away!

    Finally, back to Microsoft: don't they have over $40 billion in cash? So $500 million is 1/80th of $40 billion. That's like having $400 and being fined $5. Oh, that hurts. Is anyone here an accountant? How much of that gets written off in taxes? It's really a joke, in my mind.

    Of course I don't know the details of the case, but $500 million seems weak. Microsoft has said that IE is now a critical part of Windows. Windows and Office are the only two sources of revenue for Microsoft... doesn't that somehow make IE a critical part of their income stream? And they only got fined five bucks for it?

  • by deanj (519759) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:27AM (#6672522)
    I've been following the Eolas lawsuit for a long time now, and this is bad folks.

    They basically have a patent on any embedded technology in a browser. A lot of people have looked into this, and so far have come up with nothing. The earliest "application" in a browser technology I'm aware of is Vosaic, but I can't get ahold of anything that shows what date that was originally set up.

    This screws Flash, Java applets, and all kinds of other things. Watch for more lawsuits in the future.
  • This is no victory (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flacco (324089) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:41AM (#6672594)
    It might be an annoyance to MS, but successful enforcement of software patents is, overall, a loss to Free/OSS.
  • by puppet10 (84610) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:48AM (#6672637)
    In this article [pbs.org].

    One interesting thing not mentioned in the Rueter's report but expounded upon in detail in the pre-decision Cringely article is that winning this lawsuit may allow Eolas to prevent Microsoft fom any infringing behavior through a court injunction -- ie. they can't use the technology covered under the patent upheld by the court at any price if Eolas decides to do that (since by holding the patent they are not required to license the right to use it to anyone). And they may decide to sell to someone other than Microsoft exclusively the rights to develop software including the patented methods.

    This is one of the places software patents are really bad (though in Microsoft's case its a bit of being hoist by their own petard), the exclusivity without compulsory licensing allows Eolas (or any other company with a patented process/method/device) to use their patent as a club to force Microsoft (or anyone else) to do whatever Eolas wants if they need/want to license the patented technology.
  • by gsfprez (27403) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:48AM (#6672640)
    I don't care if its Microsoft, SCO, or Linus "Himself" - software patents are bad. Micro Soft is wrong in a great many things... but they should not have to defend themselves against "(obvious idea) over the internet" patents or any other silly patents. No one should.

    like Dennis Miller said, "Why hate someone (for something irrelevant) when, if you take the time to get to know them ..., you can find so many other things to hate them for?"

    be upset and angry at Microsoft for the things they do, not for those things that are not fair.
  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:52AM (#6672654)
    As far as I know, Microsoft hasn't ever actually started a patent infringement suit against anyone (examples to the contrary welcome, of course).

    That being the case, and given the fact that they lost this lawsuit, there are a number of things that could happen:

    1. Microsoft could just pay up and otherwise leave things alone, chalking this up to the cost of "doing business".
    2. Microsoft could appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court.
    3. Microsoft could push for some type of legislation to reduce the risk of a repeat performance.
    4. Microsoft could buy the company that hit them with this suit, along with other similar companies, and then start suing others through their newly-acquired companies.

    The interesting question is: which of the above would represent the best thing for the free software community, and how likely is it to happen?

    Things obviously don't get any better initially if they cave, though the long-term consequences might be of benefit (if they cave and just pay, then other patent-holding companies will be very much encouraged by that and we'll probably end up seeing many more such suits by such companies, and eventually the big corps will Do Something about the problem, though I suspect the end result will benefit only them and not us).

    If Microsoft appeals to the Supreme Court, they can only do so if they have some sort of Constitutional argument. That's not as far-fetched as it sounds, because they can very legitimately question whether or not the patent in question and others like it meets the intent of the clause in the Constitution upon which patent law itself is based. If it weren't for the fact that Microsoft hates to lose and generally tries to win at all costs, I would totally dismiss this as a possibility.

    If Microsoft pushes for some sort of legislation, the natural question is what that legislation would look like. My cynical outlook forces me to think that the resulting legislation would somehow raise the barrier of entry for either acquiring a patent or prosecuting a patent so high that only megacorps like Microsoft would be able to participate. Problem solved, along with the problems of these pesky little IP companies and free software types.

    Finally, Microsoft could buy the company in question out, but that might be the same thing as IBM buying SCO out as far as end results go, with the end result being that every little upstart IP company will be suing the likes of Microsoft in order to get bought out. If Microsoft has a big enough patent portfolio, then they really don't need to do this and thus probably won't.

    I'll bet Eolas is going to get lots of visits from the BSA from now on...

  • by Trogre (513942) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @12:55AM (#6672684) Homepage
    After thinking a bit, this has to be bad. Microsoft is being sued for infringing on a trivial patent that shoud never have been granted in the first place.

    Of course Microsoft fully deserves to go down for their illegal actions over the last two decades, but I think they need to go down for the right reasons.

    Not because some schmuck wants to collect royalties he doesn't deserve.

  • by mpthompson (457482) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:16AM (#6672771)
    "We believe the evidence will ultimately show that there was no infringement of any kind, and that the accused feature in our browser technology was developed by our own engineers based on preexisting Microsoft technology."

    I'm not a big fan of Microsoft, but I think they have plenty of room to wiggle out of this one on appeal.

    Microsoft's ActiveX plug-in technology, or whatever it's called today, is pretty much a direct descendent of OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) which allowed applications to be embedded within Word, Excel and any other GUI application that cared to implement the correct APIs. I'm fairly certain OLE and the enabling COM technology predates 1993 in some form or another. Embedding mini-applications within the context of a web browser hypertext document seems a pretty straightforward and obvious extension of embedding mini-applications within the context of other GUI based applications such as Word and Excel.

    Within the actual patent there seem to be descriptions about the embedded application within the browser viewing data created by a remote server with computational power exceeding what is available to the browser or media terminal. Perhaps this is what differentiates browser plug-ins from standard application plug-ins, but even this seems like a direct and obvious extension of thin-client/server computing reaching back to the days of X Window terminals or before.

    What amazes me are the legal hacks that Microsoft must have hired to royally botch this case. I can only imagine they were arrogant SOBs the jury couldn't wait to stick-it to when it came time for deliberation.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:21AM (#6672796)
    1) Patents are bad
    2) Microsoft is bad
    3) When a patent dispute goes against Microsoft, ignore rule #1
    4) While(TRUE) SCO = evil

    Another typical day at /.
  • by euxneks (516538) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:22AM (#6672798)
    What's that money to them... Bill Gate's Pocket Cash?

    I can see it in court now..

    Bill G.: Sorry.. How much was that?... Yeah sure.. just a sec.. *flip flip* there yeh go! Now run along and don't bother me again!
  • that's like what (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b17bmbr (608864) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:22AM (#6672799)
    30 minutes interest on gates' portfolio?
  • MBA on Microsoft (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbakaitis (675519) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:30AM (#6672827)
    Having read Slashdot for awhile, and having an MBA in my back pocket, I thought it might be good to point out a few things from a strictly-business point-of-view. (This obviously doesn't invalidate anybody's personal opinion...but it may be considered as an extra data point.)

    1. $500+ million is a huge amount of money. People who talk about how this is some "percentage" of Microsoft's quarterly revenues, income, or "war chest" just don't get it. In the end, successful corporations are such because:
      • Making $1 is good.
      • Making more is better.
      • Losing $1 or more is bad.
      Period.
    2. Software companies like patents because for two reasons. First, they make it harder for new entrants to threaten them. Second, it protects a position based upon functionality (in many cases) rather than pure technical merit. In each case, it protects a company against its (up-to-now) worst enemies -- other companies.
    3. Microsoft would amaze me if they decided to try to weaken patents. Doing so would weaken the vast portfolio of patents they have created or purchased. It would also weaken their ability to use these things, like a club (see #2), against competitors in the future.

    I'm not trying to shift discussion away from whether Microsoft's actions were ethical, whether patents are good, or any really relevant and interesting discussions.

    However, everything else we discuss here is, at best, philosophy to a creature like Microsoft. When you are talking about $billions in revenue, and if you are trying to "get into Microsoft's head", you need to shift perspective a bit. I, personally, think patents have been abused in many ways in the last decade. However, a company like Microsoft only evaluates things like this on one basis - money. Think like that, and you'll practically be in Bill's head.

    • by Tingler (56229) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:47AM (#6672887)
      Think like that, and you'll practically be in Bill's head.

      Bill's head, in my opinion has already left. He is looking for greener pastures. He had 651,749,300 shares of MSFT stock on or around November 1st, 2001. He currently has 172,612,893 shares as of 8/5/03. He knows that if he sells any faster, the media will catch on, as they did when Mr. Balmer unloaded around 12 million shares around the 5/30/03.
      Follow the money. The smart money is leaving Microsoft.

      link [quicken.com]

      • by FearUncertaintyDoubt (578295) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @09:48AM (#6674646)
        The quicken web site lists that he has only 172,612,893 shares as of 8/5/03. However, on 2/5/03, he had 609,749,300 shares, and on 2/18/03, he had 217,498,600 with no transaction in the meantime. Note the share price also went from $48 to $24. Answer: the stock split [microsoft.com] on 2/14/03. The quicken web site should be showing that he had 1,217,498,600 shares, and he is currently holding 1,172,612,893 shares.

        Bill may be selling, but he hasn't sold 75% of his stock.

  • by chenyu (134524) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @01:41AM (#6672866)
    I didn't mention this earlier because I didn't want Eolas to win, but I guess there is no harm in mentioning it now.

    During the litigation, lawyers from Microsoft contacted me about a program that I wrote in 1992 called tkwww which was an early web browser. The important thing about tkwww was that it rendered images by calling an external application xli.

    This was sufficiently close to what microsoft was looking for that a lawyer (who was named Vlad of all things) talked to me about what I did. I stupidly gave him a pointer to a URL through which they downloaded everything, and even more stupidly did not bill them anything at the time.

    When I finally came around to sending them an invoice I got some stupid excuse about them might needing me as a witness so that they couldn't pay me anything. I never heard from them again.

    The reason I didn't mention this earlier was because I thought that the Eolas patent was silly and I didn't want to say anything that would help them. Now that they won the case against Microsoft, I'd like to let everyone know about this prior art, in case Eolas decided to go against other people.
  • Same Old Story (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blunte (183182) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @04:51AM (#6673413)
    MS Loses Lawsuit

    MS Appeals

    Case drags on

    MS Settles for $100M

    Everyone forgets

  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday August 12, 2003 @07:23AM (#6673804) Homepage
    Judge: Mr. Gates, your company owes Eolas $521 million in damages.

    Gates: Sure, let me get my wallet!

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn

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