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August 13, 2007
Microsoft Wins Two in Patent Cases
The first one is probably good news for all digital-music listeners, as it concerns patents on MP3 compression technology. Judge Rudi Brewster threw out a jury verdict and the associated USD 1.5 billion award against Microsoft. The loser here is Alcatel-Lucent, the plaintiff, who claimed that Microsoft had violated its patents; Microsoft claimed it had licensed the patents. Alcatel-Lucent plan to appeal; the judge plans to order a new trial on the second disputed patent. According to Eric Bangeman's note on ars technica, had the award stood the plaintiffs might have had a case to go against basically anyone else who makes a digital audio player.
Meanwhile, in the "not with a bang, but a whimper" department, Microsoft asked for a 30-day postponement in the start of trial proceedings in its long-running dispute with Eolas. As you may recall, Eolas sued nearly eight years ago on the basis of a 1998 patent it claimed covered browser plug-in technology. Fast-forward to 2003 when - contrary to the incessant Internet punditry about obviousness and prior art - the verdict came down about half a billion against Microsoft. Oops.
Much hue and cry ensues about the end of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee gets involved, and an appeal is made to the USPTO for re-examination. After some provisional invalidations, and much to my surprise, the final ruling held that the patent was valid. SCOTUS refused to take the case and it proceeded to grind toward trial.
Of course technology doesn't stand still - IE6 came out and used a different plug-in technology than the ActiveX controls Eolas claimed were infringing. Microsoft has also been fighting this on the legal front, including instituting a separate challenge to ownership of the patent. Based on the US's first-to-invent patent standard, different from other countries' first-to-file standard, it may be possible for Microsoft to show it invented the technology covered in the Eolas patent in which case it would be given ownership of the patent.
Or they could just settle, like I said they would back in 2004. What concerns me is not that settlement but what will follow and whether this patent will be wielded against other browser manufacturers. Props again to Eric Bangeman, whose link-rich summary on ars technica helped remind me of the timeline in this case.
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