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All your plugin capability are belong to us
September 2, 2003 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Eolas® Technologies Inc. owns the plugin concept. Meet US Patent 5,838,906: "The patent claims to cover mechanisms for embedding objects within distributed hypermedia documents, where at least some of the object's data is located external to the document, and there is a control path to the object's implementation to support user interaction with the object." Eolas sued Microsoft, was awarded $521 million, Microsoft is appealing, and the W3C held (Macromedia hosted) an ad hoc meeting on the recent court decision and launched a discussion list. Microsoft plans to promptly make changes to Internet Explorer. If this follows through, what are the negative and positive implications?
posted by aaronshaf (29 comments total)

 
no applets. no flash.

no problem. :)
posted by einer at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2003


Boy, this strikes me as inspired by the SCO case, actually. I find it amusing Microsoft is all they sued, in a world containing Mozilla, Opera, and others. They just went where the money was.

I guess it's time to keep my ears to the ground and keep my HTML editor handy.
posted by Samizdata at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2003


We're all doomed.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:57 PM on September 2, 2003


What would happen if X became the next big internet appliance technology? They've been talking about internet desktops, and remote application serving for years and it's not like the technology hasn't been around for all to use and with the exception of massively multiplayer games hardly anyone has bothered to even use the concepts extensively at all.
posted by wobh at 2:11 PM on September 2, 2003


> what are the negative and positive implications?

Plugins are evil and they want to die. Maybe they will.
posted by jfuller at 2:13 PM on September 2, 2003


well, samizdata, the eolas case (filed in february 1999) predates the SCO case (filed in march of this year) by a couple years, so the inspiration would be the other way around. . . (and really, the claims look significantly different to me, but that's based on a really cursory reading of the eolas complaint).

i hope it means the creation of something to protect ownership rights in software that is neither a copyright nor a patent, but i'm not holding my breath. what we really need is a concept other than ownership to control IP.

oh, and we also need law firms to ditch the archaic belief that only guys who studied chemical engineering in college can practice intellectual property law. but that's another thing entirely.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2003


jfuller, for a second I thought that you'd written "Penguin are evil."
posted by vraxoin at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2003


Wait, they're gonna fix IE to settle this? Somebody wanna patent the concept of "position: fixed" not working in CSS, so they'll fix that too?
posted by arto at 2:28 PM on September 2, 2003


Boy, this strikes me as inspired by the SCO case

er, no -- it's not clear to me how you come to that conclusion with even a cursory glance at the two cases. As crush points out this case dates back far before SCO and Eolas is actually kind of the SCO case inside-out.

I'm no fan of the way Microsoft does business and while I believe there is a place for paying certain types of inventors under certain conditions, the Eolas is a beautiful case of trying to make a living my suing the deepest pockets in the room. It's a clear, horrible abuse of the system -- but then the defendant is an expert at abusing the system so it's easy to see how O'Reilly assumes jury members voted against Microsoft "just because they are Microsoft."
posted by victors at 2:30 PM on September 2, 2003


> for a second I thought that you'd written "Penguin are evil."

but that's another thread...
posted by jfuller at 2:53 PM on September 2, 2003


Yes, popup windows suck, as do flash intros. However, there's a lot more to this technology. Many publishing companies produce educational software for the web using flash. This would all suddenly go away. The cost to publishers would be huge, forcing complete revists of thousands of companion websites for textbooks.

However, it seems this is unlikely to happen. The case will go to appeals. and Microsoft is well aware of the stakes. Additionally, there is the matter of prior art, disallowed in this particular trial, but still very relevant.
posted by condour75 at 3:07 PM on September 2, 2003


that about sums up my feelings, wolfdaddy
posted by muppetboy at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2003


Cringely has weighed in on this several times. Always a good read. The link provided is from a year ago -- his speculation is pretty upbeat.
posted by RavinDave at 3:42 PM on September 2, 2003


I knew I should have patented "Patenting Generic description of obviously emergent technology in order to screw money out of rich competitors" years ago. I knew it.
posted by seanyboy at 4:02 PM on September 2, 2003


My reason for saying it struck me as being like the SCO case was precisely the "deep pockets" angle. A not-terribly-profitable company zooms out of (mostly) nowhere with a (in my opinion) questionable IP claim and immediately attacks the biggest money in the market. Voila! Instant capitalization. I wasn't exactly commenting on the merits of the case.
posted by Samizdata at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2003


Hey! Wait! I have questions! Didn't Microsoft ditch the "plugin" technology with IE6? I remember issues with Java and QuickTime, specifically... Or is ActiveX just a fancy name for generic plugin technology?

Speaking of QuickTime, I fondly remember my first non-DOS computer -- a PowerMac 6100, circa 1994-1995 -- and System 7.5's QuickTime "plugins". Doesn't THAT pre-date Eolas' patents?
posted by bhayes82 at 4:27 PM on September 2, 2003


Of course it does, bhayes82. It's clear that whoever's job it is to actually check if the technology exists before they grant a patent just isn't doing their job properly. Most of the recent controversial patent cases have been based around technology that, in reality, existed years before the patent was granted. That's what's so astounding, and that's the aspect of patents that needs to be fixed most desparately.

Isn't there some mechanism, whereby while a patent is still "pending", the public can submit examples of how the technology is already implemented?
posted by Jimbob at 5:28 PM on September 2, 2003


Doesn't THAT pre-date Eolas' patents

No. Their application was filed in 1994 -- and besides the patent has nothing to with what the plug-in is, but the mechanism for downloading and embedding. OLE, OpenDoc or CORBA are better examples of possible prior arts.

the technology exists before they grant a patent just isn't doing their job properly

I'm afraid that's just not practical. That's why there's a patent office to accept/reject applications.
posted by victors at 6:41 PM on September 2, 2003


I know how everyone hates flash and it's the devil and it kills babies - but it's also an incredibly useful medium.
and it's how i make my living.

The US Patent office needs to be restaffed. Period.
posted by cinderful at 6:55 PM on September 2, 2003


That's why there's a patent office to accept/reject applications.

But they just don't seem to be rejecting the stuff that they should, do they?
posted by Jimbob at 6:58 PM on September 2, 2003


Why doesn't Microsoft just buy whoever it is that's bugging them?
posted by RylandDotNet at 7:09 PM on September 2, 2003


Why doesn't Microsoft just buy whoever it is that's bugging them?

Because then the terrorists will have won. See also: "Why IBM hasn't bought SCO."
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2003


Or is ActiveX just a fancy name for generic plugin technology?

ActiveX is essentially Microsoft's plugin architecture. Previously they also supported Netscape's plugin architecture because it was the standard. It's no big thing to point out that Microsoft is not a fan of other peoples standards.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:55 PM on September 2, 2003


Sounds like the object embedding technology that NeXT had in the early 90s would count as prior art. The only quibble is the browser+network requirement. But since a common configuration was to have diskless NeXTstations accessing documents from a server, and the file browser was in fact called a "browser" on that platform, I think that's a pretty weak quibble.

(I forget what NeXT called it. "hot linking", maybe. It wasn't an unusual or new idea even then, although NeXT's implementation was nicely done, IMHO.)

Of course, the real defense against this patent is the "obvious to a practitioner skilled in the art" clause, but I get the feeling that that clause isn't very effective in court. Or maybe Microsoft just doesn't want to set a precedent by using it.
posted by hattifattener at 7:59 PM on September 2, 2003


jfuller, for a second I thought that you'd written "Penguin are evil." posted by vraxoin

Well....they are!

Sorry...on topic, I'm astounded that the patent was given in the first place...and what a royal pain it's going to be if MS loses on appeal.
posted by dejah420 at 9:15 PM on September 2, 2003


Another stupid patent. When will the U.S. patent office get fixed? Do people have to talk to their congressmen? Start gathering signatures? Get celebrity endorsement?
posted by Stuart_R at 9:28 PM on September 2, 2003


. & .
posted by Fezboy! at 9:44 PM on September 2, 2003


Software patents thwart innovation, creativity, competition, diversity and advancement.

That is all.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:28 AM on September 3, 2003


Enough already. I think it's time we agree to kill all the lawyers.
posted by sic at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2003


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