The retrial of the EOLAS ‘906 patent lawsuit against Microsoft was to have begun on Monday in Chicago. I learned yesterday that Microsoft had reached an agreement to settle the case with EOLAS so I would not be called to testify this week. I am relieved to not have to fly to Chicago for the trial but I’m not sure what the settlement means because details have not been made public.
Today, I found this story on the lawsuit in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (from Bloomburg News), which says the trial was put on hold while the two sides work out the final agreement.
EOLAS applied for a patent in 1994 and the PTO awarded it to him in 1998. In this controversial patent, Michael Doyle claims to have invented the mechanism by which a hypermedia browser embeds the output of another program and allows the user to control it directly. EOLAS sued Microsoft claiming that its Active X technology infringed on patent and after going to trial, Doyle was awarded a judgement of $581M.
Microsoft appealed and the courts ordered a retrial and that was to have started this week.
The purpose of the retrial was largely to re-admit evidence about the Viola browser as prior art, which the judge had not allowed to be presented fully in the first trial. The work of Pei Wei, Viola was in development at O’Reilly in 1992-1994. He wrote ViolaWWW, the first graphical web browser, which we began showing in 1992. Pei demonstrated an embedded object, a program that generated a wireframe of a jet fighter and which was very similar to the functionality described by Doyle. (Neither Pei nor I thought it was original then or now.) Lawyers seemed most interested in a demonstration of Viola that we gave to two developers at Sun Microsystems who were working on what became Java. This demonstration showed that Viola was made available to the public.
I’m not a lawyer nor a technical expert relating to these patents. I hope the settlement does not encourage Doyle to go after others and that he will be happy with whatever proceeds he has obtained. I know this from following this case: it’s a hard, long and expensive fight, no matter which side you are on.
Previous stories on this subject:
Patent Office Orders Re-exam of EOLAS patent