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Can Lotus Notes R3 Prior Art Save The Browser? 522

Posted by michael
from the ozzie-wan-kenobi-you're-my-only-hope dept.
theodp writes "Apparently stunned by the implications of Eolas vs Microsoft, Ray Ozzie of Lotus Notes and Groove fame offers up Notes R3 as prior art for the notorious Eolas patent. To bolster his argument, Ozzie used the Notes R3 feature set to recreate a scenario close to what was described in the patent. After the hard part of putting together a Notes R3 computing environment that included MS-DOS 6.22, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, and a circa-1993 copy of Excel 5.0 obtained from eBay, it only took Ozzie about 15 minutes to knock out a demo without any programming using the out-of-the-box UI of Notes and Excel."
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Can Lotus Notes R3 Prior Art Save The Browser?

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  • Nuts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by malus (6786) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:08PM (#6953267) Journal
    I was really hoping this suit would make for a better IE.
    • I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Peter Cooper (660482) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:25PM (#6953345) Homepage Journal
      People are going to mod you (and probably me) down as being flamebait, but I was surprised at the outrage surrounding this lawsuit.

      Plugins have made browsers worse, rather than better. Some sites are unusable WITHOUT having Flash. That's not the way we should be going. Accessibility, backwards compatability, and speed, are all important issues. Demanding people use Flash doesn't help with that. Slashdot recently linked to a hardware site that used Flash for its benchmark graphs.. no animation there, just blatantly unnecessary use of Flash.

      Plugins encourage people to just throw plugins into their old crappy non-standards compliant browser rather than get a new one. There are people using Netscape 4 with Flash who are still perfectly happy.. they're like the elderly drivers in their 30 year old 'danger on the road' Chevys.

      Plugins are like offering 'plugin upgrades' for cars. When your car gets slow, plug in a 'turbo' upgrade.. sure, it makes the car fast again, but your engine was busted up anyway, and you should just get a new one.

      Without plugins we can rely on more integral browser support for proper standards like SVG, CSS, and the DOM.

      You might argue that Flash is an open standard, but it's not. Macromedia updates it at such a fast pace that new features and methods are thrown in every few months. And, worse, Macromedia's Flash plugins and player take over 99.9% of the Flash playing marketplace.. meaning you're forced to follow their standard.

      Let's kill all these plugins, and have support for open standards within the browser. If SVG, DOM, and CSS2 were implemented fully and perfectly, we wouldn't need proprietary formats like Flash at all, and accessibility would be improved.
      • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

        by pyite (140350)
        On my x86 machines, I choose not to install Flash at all. However, on my non-standard machine (PPC Linux), I don't even have a choice whether or not I'd like to install it. I can only place some fault on Macromedia even though I would consider Flash to be their worst product. Instead, I fault stupid web designers who are screwing over their clients by alienating potential customers.
        • Re:I agree (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Thing 1 (178996)

          On my x86 machines, I choose not to install Flash at all.

          My default browser is Mozilla (on W2K). I do not install Flash on it.

          If I come across a site that I absolutely have to see, and it uses Flash, then I cut-and-paste the URL into IE.

          Two examples: The Homestarrunner.com site, with the initial FHQWHGADS [homestarrunner.com] (fuh-who-goo-gads) email and the song [homestarrunner.com] they created as a riff on it. It's hilarious -- watch them both, in order.

          "I'm buying you a pizza."

      • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        And how are they going to be implemented, pray tell? As plugins, perhaps?

        Whoops.
      • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

        by NineNine (235196)
        Let's kill all these plugins, and have support for open standards within the browser

        Unless your name is "Bill Gates", the chances of
        "us" doing this is about zero. The "other" browsers have virtually no impact any more. Game over. Whatever "standards" that a 3rd party came up with are completely irrelevant. I've argued that they've been irrelevant for several years now, in fact. Whatever IE does is the de-facto standard, no matter what the /. zealots think. You might as well say, "Let's change the Ea
        • Re:I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Zeinfeld (263942) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:11PM (#6954154) Homepage
          Let's kill all these plugins, and have support for open standards within the browser

          There are big problems here. First the Eolas patent covers technologies such as postscript. This despite the fact that the git who filled the thing was told about abundant prior art before the patent was issued. I know he was told because I was one of the people doing the telling.

          The real scandal here is that the idiot judge would not allow Microsoft to argue that there was prior art. The jury was instructed to disregard the evidence of Pei Wei that he invented plug ins three years earlier.

          I also happen to think that plugins suck. I hate what Javascript has done to a lot of previously usable site. Why did the idiots at netscape invent functions that allow the sender of the content to control my browser? Well yes, they were in the pocket of the content providers and they saw their market niche as being able to add corporate friendly features to the web.

          It is a great pity that so few Web companies learned the lesson of Google. In the end its the users that matter.

      • Re:I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

        by evilviper (135110) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:43PM (#6953447) Journal
        Plugins, like just about every other technology, has just as many (if not more) good uses, as bad.

        For instance, you could create a plugin for IE that fully supports PNG, or MNG. It's absolutely ridiculous that every single function of a browser should have to be statically compiled into it.

        Sure, flash is completely evil, and I wouldn't miss java one bit, but that doesn't mean plugins are all bad, and it certainly doesn't mean the very idea of plugins should be outlawed.

        Besides, make plugins illegial, and you'll only see Flash become a built-in browser feature, instead of a plugin.
        • by Snaller (147050) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:51PM (#6954064) Journal
          Obviously it won't help you see pages what REQUIRE you to use Flash, but if you use MSIE and don't wanna see all those Flash commercials all over the place, this bit will prevent Flash from loading.
          tart regedit, find

          HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
          Software
          Microsoft
          Interne t Explorer
          ActiveX Compatibility
          {D27CDB6E-AE6D-11CF-96B8-4445535400 00}

          And add as a dword:

          "Compatibility Flags"= 1024

          This sets the "Kill bit" for Flash, meaning that MSIE won't install it if it isn't installed, and wont load it if it already is installed.
          (if you don't have the {D27CDB6E-AE6D-11CF-96B8-444553540000} bit, then add it - but be sure to get all the numbers right. One digit wrong and you are casting a curse on something else)

          If you don't trust the magic of others, don't click the button Luke *G*

          Usual caveats reply; if you machine blows up, your harddrive fries, your wife leaves you... tough luck buddy ;)
      • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

        by antis0c (133550)
        While we're at it lets just restrict all personal freedoms. Down with choice! Everyone must follow the standard, Zeig Heil!
      • Re:Wrong (think PDF) (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Xolotl (675282) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:02PM (#6953536) Journal
        Flash is overused, both for static graphics and for needless bloated front pages where the rest of the site is in normal HTML. However, plugins have many good uses, perhaps most importantly for viewing PDFs. Being able to just click on a PDF and read it is great for me - practically all scientific papers are distributed as PDF these days. And since both PDF viewers and PDF writers are available in open source, it's not really a problem even if the standard itself is proprietary.

        Patenting plugins is like patenting the idea of DIY home improvement - ludicrous (although I wouldn't be surprised if someone has already patented the latter...)

        • by Anonymous Coward
          But what's wrong with reading PDF files in the Acrobat viewer externally from the browser? If you download an MP3 from the Web, you don't really want it playing in your browser, you want it over in Winamp (or whatever you use). Ditto for PDF. A Web browser isn't meant to be an 'everything browser', no matter what Microsoft thinks.
        • by rsidd (6328) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:45PM (#6954033)
          Being able to just click on a PDF and read it is great for me -

          But why do you need plugins for that? I have my browsers configured to launch xpdf for pdf files (I could do the same thing with acroread, but I like xpdf better, and I have fewer problems printing with it). And conversely I have xpdf setup to launch a browser window when I click a link. I don't see why a plugin is necessary.

        • Funny you like PDF viewer to be a plugin. I'd much prefer PDFs be opened in a separate application according to it's MIME type, so that I have access to all the menu items, toolbar buttons, and can resize it independent of the browser window.
      • Re:I agree (Score:5, Informative)

        by dvdeug (5033) <dvdeug AT email DOT ro> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:07PM (#6953560)
        Let's kill all these plugins, and have support for open standards within the browser. If SVG, DOM, and CSS2 were implemented fully and perfectly, we wouldn't need proprietary formats like Flash at all, and accessibility would be improved.

        Have you ever heard of DjVu? It's a graphics format for scanned documents, that does amazing levels of compression - 10 Megapixel B&W scans in 30k, for example. It's not something that everyone needs, or that has been around long enough for it to be hardcoded into everyone's browser. But there's no way you can replicate it using "proper standards". So those of us who want to use it, can, without worrying about it being a "proper standard" or built-in to every browser on Earth.
      • Re:I agree (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cscx (541332)
        Some sites are unusable WITHOUT having Flash. That's not the way we should be going.

        While a nice, extremely far-fetched thought that would work in theory, when you figure out how to replicate the content of Homestar Runner [homestarrunner.com] in text, let me know!
        • Re:I agree (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dachannien (617929)
          While a nice, extremely far-fetched thought that would work in theory, when you figure out how to replicate the content of Homestar Runner in text, let me know!

          This is completely beside the point of what he was saying. The point is that people aren't just using Flash for content presentation, but they use it for all of the navigation on a site as well. And even worse, some people use Flash for a small widget off in the corner that provides neither content nor navigation functionality, but they *require*
      • by nobodyman (90587) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:32PM (#6953691) Homepage
        Which is essentially
        "I hate plugins, so I don't care about the rapant abuse of software patents in this instance"

        Taken in another context, it's a bit like saying
        "I don't like [insert racial epithet here], so I don't care that the government violates their civil rights"

        If we dismiss the travesty that Eolas is trying to get away with because the victims are Microsoft and plug-ins, don't come bitching to me when you get sued off your ass for using a JPEG or GIF on your website.
      • :I don't agree (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jeremy Erwin (2054)
        Most individuals don't want,or need the ability to display chemcal structures.. But some users do. The plugin concept allows a small software developer to write a small library that handles interactive display, without having to persuade the mozilla or IE developers to incorporate the functionility in the main distribution.
      • Re:I agree (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zangdesign (462534)
        This doesn't appear to affect just browsers, though, but ANY software which uses a plug-in. So, no more music software which uses soft-synths, no more extensions in your favorite word processor, etc. Everything will have to be compiled in, which means software bloat out the wazoo.

        Your argument sounds like sour grapes. Does it upset you that the web is no longer solely the domain of academics and nerds? You may not like Flash (it doesn't bother me all that much), but it is easy to use and easy to create new
    • Re:Nuts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:28PM (#6953363)
      I was really hoping this suit would make for a better IE.


      How? The suit said that a browser that allowed you to open a page that needed a helper program to render/show content was not possible without licensing the patent. That means any plugins would be not allowed. Ok, that stops a couple of security holes, at least somewhat, but it means Java, Flash, QuickTime, etc. are no longer available.

      MS could do two things once they accept the patent as valid: they could strip out all possibility of plugins for IE, or they could license the patent. As a quick guess, I'd say the latter would be easier. (And would put projects such as Mozilla is a bind, since they are not likely to be able to raise the money to pay for a license.)

      (Quick conspirisary theory: If you assume MS could have come up with prior art, they might 'agree' to loose, if it meant they would have 'minor' license fees but there would be no other licenses, thereby driving out all their competition. Slightly over-paranoid, but it is MS...)
    • I am still hoping that two good things may happen:
      1. No more plugins in any browser - I would enjoy whole Internet using only official and open web stabdards;
      2. No more software patents - no comments on that as such befits are two obvious for all normal people;

      But I'm afraid that IBM will come up right at the last moment with something from their huge patent library and say:

      • give these $.5B to me;
      • everyone keep your developing until I'll find out that I can get another $.5B from some of my patents;
      • hey, USP
  • This could be good for Microsoft, which in some ways is a bummer. But if Eolas was intending to carry over this suit to other browsers, than it could be good for everyone. Although in the end I was still hoping to see Microsoft crash and burn for something.
    • by stemcell (636823) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:12PM (#6953289)
      microsoft wouldn't crash and burn for this, they've got plenty cash to buy top lawyers to defend them.

      We should be grateful that this protects other browsers - because that's who Eolas will be after next.

      Stemmo
    • But if Eolas was intending to carry over this suit to other browsers, than it could be good for everyone. Although in the end I was still hoping to see Microsoft crash and burn for something.

      I think it's the InterTrust [com.com] suit you want to be hoping for in that case.. I don't think Linux is vunerable to patents on DRM technology.
    • I actually don't think it would matter if the suit followed to other browsers...as you well know, a lot of the way companies work (that make plug-ins, or any other for that matter) would make sure that the new version of the plug-in would work in IE FIRST, and then maybe if they had time, they'd make it work for everyone else. So, in the end, the other browsers would probably have to change the way they accept plug-ins as well anyway, so that it'd be easier for plugin-makers to port it.
    • This could be good for Microsoft, which in some ways is a bummer. But if Eolas was intending to carry over this suit to other browsers, than it could be good for everyone. Although in the end I was still hoping to see Microsoft crash and burn for something.

      I'm not for Microsoft or Eolas, nor am I against them in this case.

      What I resent is this whole sordid litigious mess, the colossal waste of effort and money to get these cases sorted, and lawyers getting richer over a silly issue.


  • A thousand or so of these half million dollar lawsuits are all that is needed to take down such a large corporation.

    Given current trends, I wonder how unlikely this is...

    Like the apes say, "oh shit, spaceballs, there goes the planet"
    • by DrEldarion (114072) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:14PM (#6953295)
      Yes, because no matter how ridiculous the lawsuit is, if it's against someone you don't like, it's perfectly fine!

      -- Dr. Eldarion --
    • by CrystalFalcon (233559) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:15PM (#6953298) Homepage
      It's a half BILLION dollar lawsuit.

      $500M, not $500k.

      Specifically, 521 million dollars.

      Something tells me Eolas broke out the champagne after that verdict...
    • by msgmonkey (599753)
      As much as I may not like Microsoft I have more of a problem with software patents. Do you think people looking to make a buck would stop at them? If you had thousands of cases like this going on it would be the end of the software industry.
    • by michael_cain (66650) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:32PM (#6953689) Journal
      A thousand or so of these half million dollar lawsuits are all that is needed to take down such a large corporation.
      A thousand or so of these lawsuits are all that is needed to block everyone except large corporations out of the software development business. At some point, there will be enough software patents that it will be, literally, impossible to write any reasonably complicated piece of code without infringing on one or more of them. If this case holds up on appeal, no one can use plugins in this fashion without paying royalties until the patent expires.

      The situation may well be like the electronics industry in the 1950s and 1960s -- a few large corporations with extensive circuit patent portfolios built all the electronic devices, and avoided patent lawsuits by cross-licensing the portfolios back and forth. But little guys without a portfolio were effectively locked out. They couldn't afford to license the patented circuits they needed individually.

      If this becomes the established practice, Microsoft and IBM and Sun and a few other companies will be able to write software "legally", but no one else will. I believe that RMS has written repeatedly that software patents have the potential to destroy the open-source software community.

  • Such a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:15PM (#6953299) Homepage
    For you who hate Microsoft and hate the abuse of patents, do you know which side to take?


    Keep in mind, that if Microsoft is screwed over with abuse of a patent, you might be next.


    Same thing with the abuse of any right or law. Keep in mind when the law is abused or a right trampled on, even for a good cause, the next time it may not be a good cause or it could be you that is being abused.

    • Re:Such a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mukund (163654) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:38PM (#6953420) Homepage
      This is a very good argument.

      I don't like the way they do their business.

      Microsoft may have done a lot of bad things, but this patent applies to every browser out there. They are fighting, trying to find a way. It is a better idea to support this fight.

      • Re:Such a problem (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Malcontent (40834)
        "Microsoft may have done a lot of bad things, but this patent applies to every browser out there. "

        Yes and no. Mozilla can easily get by without plug ins because of XUL.
    • what's with this sidetaking?

      is it really important to take sides on something you don't really have any part in?

      the classical "with us or against us" argument? or is slashdot just a huge mtv yes/no sms text show??

      i'm not going to take any sides, ms certainly isn't doing it for freedom of innovation and neither is the other party. and certainly my sidetaking isn't going to make a difference in this(and if it did, wtf, did i just become a judge in court of law)!

      i can hope though that ms gets smacked hard
    • Re:Such a problem (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DickBreath (207180)
      Keep in mind, that if Microsoft is screwed over with abuse of a patent, you might be next.

      I disagree. In fact, I would argue quite the opposite.

      So there is no doubt, let me be clear. If Microsoft is screwed over by abuse of a patent, then you might never get screwed by patent abuse.

      Here on my planet, the government will do anything to protect poor Microsoft. Anything that is bad for Microsoft must be bad for everyone else too. Anything that hurts Microsoft could cripple the economy. Maybe the
    • Ideals aside -- and I believe in supporting the right thing even for questionable characters/companies -- it's pragmatic on every level to hope for a microsoft victory in this case.

      You see, if they lose, they can actually turn this to their advantage. As others have observed, Microsoft can afford to pay licensing fees. Most developers of other browsers can't. Thus, if Microsoft were to lose or "settle," they'd simply be creating another barrier to entry in the browser market. Which is remarkably good for t
    • Rational people don't "hate Microsoft", they "hate Microsoft's conduct"--anti-competitive business practices, vaporware, shoddy software development, aggressive purchases of startups, bundling deals, etc.

      Eolas patent not only is a software patent, it is a bad software patent, and there is prior art. Microsoft is clearly getting a raw deal here and they are being wronged by Eolas. On this matter, the open source community should take Microsoft's side.

      However, if you still like something to "hate" about M
  • Sad (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:15PM (#6953300)
    "it only took Ozzie about 15 minutes to knock out a demo without any programming using the out-of-the-box UI of Notes and Excel"

    He really needs to get laid.
  • Trial is over (Score:5, Informative)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:16PM (#6953304) Homepage
    Only in a limited number of circumstances would a case be re-opened to present newly discovered evidence. The fact finding stage of this case is over. I doubt this information will be of any use now.
    • Appeals?
    • Re:Trial is over (Score:5, Informative)

      by rdean400 (322321) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:26PM (#6953351)
      And this should be one of those circumstances. If newly discovered evidence clearly undermines the core of the plaintiff's case, then it must be reconsidered.
    • Re:Trial is over (Score:5, Informative)

      by MisterFancypants (615129) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:31PM (#6953382)
      Only in a limited number of circumstances would a case be re-opened to present newly discovered evidence. The fact finding stage of this case is over. I doubt this information will be of any use now.

      You clearly forgot the IANAL part. This is a civil case, Microsoft can easily appeal. This isn't a criminal murder case...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:23PM (#6954197)
        Why does everyone have to incessantly shout

        IANAL
        IANAL
        IANAL

        over and fucking over again? Yes, we know that you are one of, I don't know, 5 and a half billion NONLAWYERS.

        Christ, do people who sit around in the pub aruging politics and football routinely interject:

        By the way guys, you might not want to listen to what I have to say next because--crap!--I just realized, I'm not a lawyer.

        No, they don't. Now, will you people quit it already?. It is perfectly acceptable to make an observation without being a lawyer--if you're wrong, someone who knows better will inform you.

        This meme, much like the people who use the word meme, ought to be shot.

        Thank you and goodnight,

        Anonymous Coward.
    • Re:Trial is over (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EvanED (569694)
      What it would definitely help is if there were suits filed against Mozilla or Opera or other browesers.
    • Re:Trial is over (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GigsVT (208848)
      I think if someone else challenges the patent and it is found to be invalid, then MS could get let off the hook. It wouldn't make any sense to say that the patent was valid but suddenly became invalid, and people would still have to pay if they lost a case earlier.

      Just a guess.
  • by pirhana (577758) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:16PM (#6953305)
    One thing good about this entire issue of Eola patent is that it is likely to expose the danger of software patents and more people would become aware of it. Since microsoft, not any free software project is the victim, even PHBs would find it easy to understand
  • Its all BS anyway. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by litewoheat (179018) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:17PM (#6953311)
    There's prior art for a lot of what's been awarded a software patent. Besides that, a patent should only be awarded for a process or design that is non-obvious. The test for that is supposed to be a committee of highly credentialed people in the field to agree that its non-obvious. Few software "inventions" are non-obvious. The committee is filled with DeVry dropouts who donated enough to a campaign or two to get a committee seat. Hence the utterly stupid patents that have been awarded.
  • I hope (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:19PM (#6953320)
    He has valid licenses for DOS 6.22, Windows 3.11 and Excel! Otherwise, he could be in some trouble with Microsoft.
  • by AceMarkE (154966) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:23PM (#6953337)
    I'll be the first to admit that I don't like a lot of what Microsoft does and that I have issues with a lot of their software, particularly Internet Explorer. With that said... this is very much a good thing.

    Eolas could easily proceed to sue the Mozilla Foundation, Opera, and anyone else who writes a browser with plugin technologies. That would be devastating for developers, users, and web designers. The News.com article [com.com] linked in one of the previous articles on this topic points out that not only would the browser have to be revised, but far too many web pages as well.

    Would I like to see Microsoft set back a bit, or at least forced to mess with IE some? Yeah. But this is a case that would affect all of us negatively, not just Microsoft. We owe Ray Ozzie some thanks for bringing this to light.

    Mark Erikson
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:24PM (#6953343)
    I'm beginning to wonder..... perhaps a community "Prior Art" effort, somewhat comparable to the open source community, is needed.

    Identify, research and debunk such absurd/greedy patents (and perhaps eventually much or all of the software patents nonsense) so as to get the patents withdrawn/cancelled.... and/or reassigned to some "open source" holder.

    Might eventually be able to deconstruct much of the current software patent farce.

    Or perhaps the "open source" community could get some showstopper patents of its own, to use as leverage against overreaching/absurdist patent holders holders to. Perhaps even get other altruistic patent holders to donate their patents to a pool of such patents held by an "open source" protector, so as to grow them and increase the leverage.
  • This may help OSS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anomaly (15035) <tom.cooper3NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:28PM (#6953360)
    Even though the fact-finding portion of the case is over, these facts may be admissible in a new case when Eolas goes after the next guy.

    As a result, MS may still have to pay the $500M, but Mozilla et al may be spared from similar judgement. Sadly this could go to court and could be expensive if Eolas wants to pursue it with others... has anyone from the OSS browser community contacted Eolas? As others have suggested, they might be amenable to licensing it to that community and then a court proceeding might be avoidable altogether.

    PS - God loves you and longs for relationship with you. If you have questions about this, please email me at tom_cooper@bigfoot.com

    • PS - God loves you and longs for relationship with you.

      God was my copilot. Until we crashed into a mountain and I had to eat him.
    • PS - God loves you and longs for relationship with you.

      Watch out for that guy, I used to go out with him a few thousand years ago. He was violent, vain and had a bad temper. A classic anal/territorial military type. When I broke up with him, he went completely psycho and tried to smite my first-born.

      I doubt he'll violate the restraining order though. My current gf, Reason, can be pretty fierce when she has to.

  • Hope it works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by angst_ridden_hipster (23104) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:30PM (#6953374) Homepage Journal
    While I have no love for Microsoft, this will be a good thing if it results in the defeat of this patent suit.

    Software patents have the potential for destroying the software industry.

    In 1972, the Supreme Court of the US ruled that you couldn't patent an Algorithm, it had to be a "process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter." But then in 1981, they sort of reversed themselves to allow patent protection for algorithms that were part of a patented process.

    I don't know who first came up with, say, binary tree data structures or A* tree search algorithms. I don't know who first came up with code for virtual memory, case-insensitive string comparisons, hierarchical filesystems, or text string templating. But say that in each of these cases, the inventor had patented whatever application they had, and the patents were to include the algorithms... where would computers be today?

    Software patents could push the price of everyday software, even Open Source software, to astronomical levels. You think the SCO situation is bad? Imagine if all those ancient IBM, Burroughs, DEC, Sperry, NTT, AT&T, etc, patents got dug up and enforced. Try writing software without using some of the algorithms that were developed from the 1930s and on. But, on the other hand, imagine if those companies (or the companies who now own the rights to their work) were to use all that prior art to clobber companies like SCO or Eolas who want to scorch, burn, and pillage.

    StdDisclaimer: I am not a patent attorney, lawyer, or legal professional. These are opinions and facts as I understand them.

    • expiration (Score:5, Informative)

      by vlad_petric (94134) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:47PM (#6953461) Homepage
      The only good thing about such patents is that they expire in 20 years, and you only have 1 year after you publish the idea to apply for a patent. So ancient stuff is fortunately rulled out.
    • Exactly! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by roystgnr (4015) <roystgnr@@@ticam...utexas...edu> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:31PM (#6953682) Homepage
      I don't know who first came up with, say, binary tree data structures or A* tree search algorithms. I don't know who first came up with code for virtual memory, case-insensitive string comparisons, hierarchical filesystems, or text string templating. But say that in each of these cases, the inventor had patented whatever application they had, and the patents were to include the algorithms... where would computers be today?

      It's a shame not everybody sees it that way. Try to read this story in the mindset of a litigious businessman instead of a programmer for a minute, however, and the first thing you'll think is no longer "Thank God Eolas will be challenged on this" but rather "Ray Ozzie should have filed the patent instead so he could have earned half a billion dollars!"

      No matter how obvious or broad a new idea is, somebody has to be the first to think of it, and whomever does has a chance to patent it, milk it for cash, and incidentally set the progress of software back 20 years in the process. Litigious individuals have a huge advantage over actual productive inventors in this process, too, because they can simply give a vague description of the idea while a productive person would be "wasting time" implementing it.

      It's not that I don't think there should be any intellectual property laws surrouding software, just that the laws are sufficient without patents getting involved. You can't copyright a design for a particular gearbox or drill bit, so you have to patent it. And, once you've done so, your competitors are just prevented from copying that particular part, not from "using gears to transmit torque" or "drilling to reach oil". With software patents (at least of the egregious kind we see on Slashdot) nobody seems to care if the patent application is so unspecific or obvious that it wouldn't help anyone else to solve the problem at hadn, or even if it is so broad as to prevent people from solving related problems. I'm not sure why, either. Is it because mechanical engineering is so much older than software engineering that everything obvious has prior art which predates the current patent system? Is it because mechanical engineering seems more accessible to laymen and lawyers who are thus better equipped to throw the obvious ideas out?
  • by christophe (36267) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:34PM (#6953397) Journal
    >copy of Excel 5.0 obtained from eBay,

    Does that mean that Microsoft did refuse to send any free copy of an obsolete software to anybody who may spare them half a billion dollars?!

  • Great! Now... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sebby (238625) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:34PM (#6953398)
    Now can we sue the patent office for not having done its work in the first place, causing all this extra work by other parties?

  • by NineNine (235196) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:38PM (#6953421)
    I hate MS, but hopefully this thing can be beat. (Did I sum up the first 50 posts properly?)
  • Just how far should this be pulled? I wonder if I will ever again be able to drive any make of car with a radio, CD player, handsfree for my cell phone and a small refridgerator hooked to the lighter output in the back. Or will one make claim the right to such "plug ins"? Sheesh. . .
  • by un4given (114183) <bvoltz@gmailPASCAL.com minus language> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:45PM (#6953451)
    From the article:

    These documents, applications and solutions are hosed on a server analogous to today's "Web application servers".

    That's a true assessment of Lotus Notes if I ever saw one.
  • After the hard part of putting together a Notes R3 computing environment that included MS-DOS 6.22, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, and a circa-1993 copy of Excel 5.0 obtained from eBay...

    Heh.. I got all that on the shelf over the 'puter nicely sorted and in colourcoded diskette-boxes (DOS and WIN in the green one, apps in the red, games in the blue), and if I look in the closet, I got a nice, fast 486DX33 with a whopping 8Mb RAM to run it on. So if setting up a ten year old system is the hard part, the ac

  • All Hail Ray Ozzie (Score:2, Interesting)

    by techsoldaten (309296)
    ...if this proves to be the thing that lets us keep plugins in the public domain.

    As a Flash developer, the idea that users would have to take some convoluted route to access a movie I made just so some fat jerk can get rich really ticks me off.

    The U.S. Patent Office needs to get up to speed and stop issuing patents on trivial systems features. I mean, using sub-programs in programs is something I have done in C++ since the late 80s. WTF Why is a Web browser supposed to be so special a thing that someone c
  • Does Microsoft garner enough of a gain from patent law to offset potential $500M losses?

    If not, simple economics argues it will (not could, not should, but will) join the Open Source community in opposition to software patents.

    The swipe against IBM, which *does* accrue such gain, is just gravy.
  • by Cerlyn (202990) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:16PM (#6953610)

    IANAL (nor are probably 99% of the other people commenting), but this may not count as prior art. The important thing about prior art is that it is made up PRIOR to the patent in question. If someone patented the wheel, and I then read the patent (think blueprint) for it, I too could take a hammer, saw, chisel, etc. and scream "Look how obvious this is!"

    In this case, if someone can prove they created a similar combination of program(s) prior to October 17, 1994, that would stand a much better chance of invalidating the patent. A mockup done in 2003 likely will not.

  • by floop (11798) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:32PM (#6953693)
    The abuse of patent protections used not to inovate but to be supress them is necessary to point out the absurdity of our current patent laws. If judgements in suits like these were based on the actual value that had been created by the patent holder instead of the value created by the patent infringer, the protections provided by patents would make a lot more sense. This would prevent people creating patents as a direct revenue source instead of creating patents to protect actual products they're producing. A patent by itself would only be capable of preventing someone from infringing it but not as tool for extortion.
  • Prior Art??? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Snorpus (566772) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:56PM (#6953793)
    At a really fundamental level, how different is transparently running a plug-in on a web page different from a program written in C or C++ causing a DLL written in Assembler to execute?

    Are printer (and other device) drivers all that different than plug-ins?

    When I click the Print icon, aren't I in effect asking the operating system to transparently execute a separate ("plug-in") program, the printer driver, to perform a task for me?

    Or am I missing the point here?

  • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @06:58PM (#6953799) Journal
    [eolas.com]
    Read this!

    It's a USA Today story from the cover (!) in 1996.

    Important points:

    Dr. Doyle (Eolas) isn't trying to squash Mozilla or anything like that. What he was hoping to do would be to force Microsoft, Sun, etc. to join an organization where they would standardize their architecture. He declared the current state of things then as a "hodgepodge", and it still is today (EJB vs. NET vs. DCOM vs. SOAP vs. agent archs). He claimed he would provide free licenses to anyone who would cooperate. He also thought maybe he'd get funding from some guy who was afriad of Microsoft or Oracle, and wanted his help to one-up what they had.

    That ain't going to happen now.

    I'm pretty sure he's cutting his losses and JUST going after the biggest fish in the pond.

    You can also read his letter to the readership of DDJ (they had many of the same opinions as Slashdotters I've read so far).

    Scroll down to the letters section [ddj.com]. You may need to sign up for access. Alternatively, I will include a quote without permission.


    Rather than representing a "blow to interactivity on the Internet," the University of California patent will be used to encourage the acceptance of a standard API for Web-based interactive applications, preventing the development of a VHS/ Beta-style "API war" between Microsoft, Netscape, Sun, and the like. We are not asking browser companies to pay royalties for developing browsers that can run applets. Rather, we are only requiring that they adhere to a standard "Web-API" that will be defined by a consortium of Eolas licensees...
    [your] comments go on to imply that since I went to graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and since Mosaic was developed there, that I must have "lucked" into some special knowledge of Web technologies through an alleged "tangential association" with NCSA. This is untrue and misleading. Although I did receive my PhD from UIUC, I had no connection with NCSA at the time. My attendance on campus was from 1984-1989, long before the NCSA folks began work on a Web browser. Furthermore, my degree was from the department of Cell and Structural Biology, for studying the effects of aging on the microvascular system of the heart.


    This guy isn't the bad guy. He's just a dude who tweaked up his web browser for medical imageing, and had a bright idea. The University hired Townsend, Townsend and Crew to file the patent, and they couldn't come up with anything at the time. Maybe the weren't Lotus users? ;-)

    In any case, since this guy wasn't a CS major (Biology), he probably wouldn't have been privy to Lotus. He was an academic Unix guy, and Lotus was big in business circles. I can't blame him, and think Ray Ozzie needs to get off his soapbox.

    Lotus is dead man, don't give Microsoft any ammo. Doyle wants Microsoft to start playing nice, and you're undermining that. Great way to see your vision through Ozzie; they (Ozzie and Doyle) both had the same vision and I think he fails to realize how alike their thinking and motives are.

    Microsofts' are less pure.
    • by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:03PM (#6953837) Journal
      Link to Townsend, Townsend and Crew [townsend.com] website. These are also the guys who went up against Microsoft in the class action lawsuit in California [slashdot.org].

      Maybe it's the law firm who wants to tackle Microsoft more than Doyle. Food for thought?

      ^_^

    • by jazman (9111) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:54PM (#6954075)
      "Dr. Doyle (Eolas) isn't trying to squash Mozilla or anything like that. What he was hoping to do would be to force Microsoft, Sun, etc. to join an organization where they would standardize their architecture."

      Yeah. To HIS requirements. This is no better than Microsoft driving the market. This is supposed to be a FREE market, folks. That means the CONSUMER drives it, not the suppliers. Even if we all agree that supplier A driving the market is totally evil, the solution is not to have supplier B pop up and take their place.

      Then what if he doesn't like something Moz does? Perhaps he's in bed with a spammer, who is losing cash because of the popup blocking. Does the standard specify popup blocking? If not then Moz isn't strictly following the standards.

      "This guy isn't the bad guy."

      No, this guy is ANOTHER bad guy. He doesn't like the way MS is driving the market, and wants to drive it himself. The problem is not which supplier is driving the market, it's that the market is being driven by a supplier in the first place.

      "Lotus is dead"

      Yeah, but it wasn't some years ago, when this patent was applied for. That's the whole point of the article, if I read it correctly. If Lotus could do it back then, then the patent is rubbish.
  • The Real Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nathanh (1214) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @07:34PM (#6953958) Homepage
    The problem with patents isn't that they're granted too easily. It isn't that patents are granted for obvious processes, or processes already in existence. It isn't even that patents can hide in a product for years, gaining in popularity, before the patent owner demands payment (though that particular aspect really disgusts me). The real problem with patents is that there's no financial cap on the "reward" the patent owner can demand.

    In this case, Eolas got half a BILLION dollars. I can't imagine that even if this patent has merit (I don't think it does) that the staff at Eolas have truly produced something of that worth. There is no way Eolas invested anything like that into research for their patent. Even if Eolas had a rare genius on their staff who invented something truly unique and revolutionary, no single person can produce half a BILLION dollars of worth.

    Oh sure, that's just "capitalism" somebody will say. The property owner gets to pick the price. Mysterious "market forces" will sort everything out. But in the case of patents there are no market forces. Patent owners enjoy a monopoly where nobody can legally compete. The patent owners can set their prices sky-high and nobody can undercut them.

    Rather than putting the onus on the patent review process to "weed out" the bad patents - which I personally believe is an impossible task - there should instead be a financial valuation done of patents before they are granted. The patent owner can document their expected earnings from the patent. If the patent owner poorly estimates the expected earnings (claims a future earning of $1mill but collects half a BILLION dollars) then something is almost certainly wrong.

    This way companies (incl. Microsoft) can easily identify any patents that may financially harm them in the future and invest more effort into disproving their merit. If the patent owner truly believes their patent is worthy then they can invest more time and money into defending the patent. This is pure self-interest at work, so I have every confidence that it will work.

    The current patent system is like a lottery. The fix is to make it accountable. My idea might not be practical for reasons I cannot see, but I'm convinced that something similar to it will fix the patent system.
  • by BladeMelbourne (518866) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:57PM (#6954324)
    Wow - so many "Flash is evil" postings.

    I have the Flash plugin installed in Linux and Windows. It's NO INCONVENIENCE AT ALL to download a file less than 700 KB in size and install it.

    Of course there are places where Flash usage is excessive or relied on too much, but there are many places where it is appropriate.

    As a web developer, I know how hard it is to mimick the interactivty and animation. Flash is a mature product, it has many features that are impossible/very difficult to implement using XHTML/DOM/CSS/JavaScript/SVG/DHTML/etc.

    When I develop a web page where I am given Flash to embed, I also provide a plain text alternative - and I make a point of making it looking as simple/boring as possible. That way visually impaired visitors can still use the site, and those "Flash is evil" users can be punished with very un-appealing presentation. I mean these technologies have been around for years - designed to enrich our browsing experience. Why not accept it and get on with life?

    Some things just cant/shouldnt be done in Flash. Some things just cant/shouldnt be done in W3C technologies. Flash vector animations are very small - higher quality and much smaller than the equivalent animated gif or DHTML.

    The Flash plugin is quite cross browser/operating system friendly. Imagine the headaches accomplishing the same interactivty/animation using W3C code. Browsers don't adhere to standards perfectly.

    Some tech users may find plugins evil or inconvenient - why? Think of the 100 times more people who aren't techies - think how they appreciate the simplicity of plugins. Just one or two "OK" clicks if they don't have the plugin - and they are viewing the plugin content.

    The internet is a heterogenous store of many different forms of media - user friendly browsing is achieved by browsers capable of displaying multiple media formats IN THE BROWSER. This includes PDF, Flash and M$ Office files. The general internet population is not as savvy as many of us on /. - we need to be considerate of them too.

    Mike
  • by beej (82035) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:04PM (#6954513) Homepage Journal
    We obviously know what's obvious and what obviously isn't. There should be a meta/moderating system for patents. This way we slashdotters can vote on new software patent applications, like so:

    • This was obvious in 1974
    • Completely obvious
    • Still frickin' obvious
    • Obvious
    • Clever
    • Cowboyneal

    Tell me we wouldn't do a better job than the patent office...

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