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Eolas suit may spark HTML changes

From: Richard M. Smith <rms@computerbytesman.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2003 20:26:37 -0400
To: "W3C Public Web Plugins List" <public-web-plugins@w3.org>
Message-ID: <006a01c37f0d$db097b80$550ffea9@rms>

Eolas suit may spark HTML changes
By Paul Festa 
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

As anxiety builds throughout the Web over the patent threatening
Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, the Web's leading standards group
is considering modifying the medium's lingua franca itself, HTML, to
address the same threat. 

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is on the verge of forming a patent
advisory group, or PAG, in response to the Eolas patent suit, according
to sources close to the consortium. That group would conduct a public
investigation into the legal ramifications of the patent on Hypertext
Markup Language, the signature W3C standard that governs how most of the
Web is written, and other specifications related to it. 

The W3C declined to comment on the PAG, but a representative
acknowledged that the group had yet to conduct any formal investigation
into the legal issues surrounding the patent and HTML.

Eolas' $521 million patent victory over Microsoft and its Internet
Explorer browser has sent shockwaves through the Web and the software
industry as a whole. While Microsoft has pledged to appeal the ruling,
it has already prepared for a worst-case scenario, as have companies
such as Macromedia and Sun Microsystems whose technologies rely heavily
on IE's ability to play plug-ins--the capability found to infringe on
the Eolas patent.

Now the W3C is said to be contemplating changes to HTML, considered one
of the consortium's more mature and settled specifications.

The potential problem for HTML is that it describes a way of summoning
content located on a server other than the one serving the page in
question. The "object" and "embed" tags in HTML, consortium members
worry, may fall under the wording of the Eolas patent.

Options the PAG could recommend include a technical workaround or new
wording in HTML and related specifications warning that authors who
implement the tags in question should contact the patent holders and
take out a license, if necessary.
The HTML PAG could also, as have previous PAGs in other working groups,
launch a drive to discover "prior art," or technologies older than the
Eolas patent that could potentially invalidate it in court.

The W3C established the PAG system after its P3P privacy preferences
recommendation was threatened by patents. The groups have since been
formed to respond to patent disputes among VoiceXML working group
members. The PAG policy was codified with the rest of the W3C's
patent-averse policy, which was ratified in March after a rancorous

Eolas founder and sole employee Mike Doyle said the W3C was right to
take a closer look at HTML with respect to his patent.

"If you read the trial testimony, you'll see references several times to
experts who testified that browsers that support the 'embed' and
'object' tags are covered by the patent," Doyle said in an interview.
"You have to look at the details on a case-by-case basis, but the
testimony at the trial was pretty complete."
Received on Friday, 19 September 2003 20:26:39 UTC

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