12 August 2003
Tripped up in the patent minefield
The University of California owns US patent number 5,838,906, granted in 1998 after a four-year wait, which describes a method for embedding executable code in a Web page and a means to execute it in a browser. The University has engaged Eolas Technologies to administer this patent.
Eolas quickly hit upon an administration tool: sue the pants off Microsoft, whose ActiveX controls constitute a method for embedding executable code in a Web page and a means to execute it in a browser. The suit was filed in 1999, and yesterday a jury found that Microsoft was liable for infringement of the California patent. Damages of $520.6 million were assessed.
Bill Gates, of course, could pull this sum out of petty cash, though Microsoft can be expected to fight this tooth and nail at least until the patent expires. And rival browsers might also be considered to be infringing upon the patent, but makers of rival browsers don't have this kind of money.