The Future = Now x Acceleration

Interactive Multimedia? Patent Troll Claims Invention of Interactive Web

with 2 comments

Eolas Patent ClaimI didn’t see this coming – perhaps I should have.

I have talked a great deal about the founders and co-founders of technologies which make the Internet and World Wide Web function and how they released their inventions upon the world for free. Copyright options such as the General Public License and Creative Commons allowed volunteer collaborators to quickly build and in innovate the Web.

Well, now comes along Michael David Doyle and his company called Eolas– along with the University of California owns a patent that entitles it to the right to license all interactive Web functionality. If you are tempted to utter “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot,” wait until you see what’s at stake.

States author Joe Mullin in a Wired.Com article from Wednesday:

Today, Doyle and his lawyers say he’s owed royalty payments for the use of a stunning array of modern web technologies. Watching online video, having a “search suggestion” pop up in a search bar, or even rotating an image of a sweater you might want to buy on an online shopping site — all are said to infringe on the idea-space of Doyle and his company, Eolas Technologies.

The stakes are breathtaking. If Eolas wins its patent suit, it could demand royalty payments from almost every Website, Web 2.0 service and mobile application developer in the world. That would stifle innovation on the Internet faster than if we all decided all at once to speak a unique language that no on else knows.

This tiny little company that has neither developed nor marketed any commercially-successful Internet technology seems an unlikely plaintiff. But it is a force to be reckoned with. It won a half-billion-dollar jury verdict against Microsoft in 1999. That verdict was overturned on appeal, but Microsoft settled to make Eolas go way and the company got a $100 million windfall. The University of California received more than $30 million.

Here’s why I should have seen this on the horizon. Look at it from the perspective of Eolas. Why not sue the entire Internet? If only a few of the big players settle rather than litigate, that’s still a huge payday — whether it’s a justly acquired one or not.

World Wide Web inventor and creator Tim Berners-Lee testified at the trial finishing his testimony exhausted and shaken.

Via Wired:

Jennifer Doan, a Texarkana lawyer representing Yahoo and Amazon, led the questioning.

Tim Berners-Lee“Mr. Berners-Lee, why are you here?” asked Doan.

“I am here because I want to help get some clarity over what was obvious, and what was the feeling of computing [in the early 1990s]…. The tools I had in my knapsack, so to speak,” he said.

After describing how Berners-Lee worked at CERN in Switzerland back in the 1980s, Doan moved on to the web. When Berners-Lee invented the web, did he apply for a patent on it, Doan asked.

“No,” said Berners-Lee.

“Why not?” asked Doan.

“The internet was already around. I was taking hypertext, and it was around a long time too. I was taking stuff we knew how to do…. All I was doing was putting together bits that had been around for years in a particular combination to meet the needs that I have.”

Doan: “And who owns the web?”

Berners-Lee: “We do.”

Doan: “The web we all own, is it ‘interactive’?”

“It is pretty interactive, yeah,” said Berners-Lee, smiling.

Eolas and the University of California have to win this suit first, establishing whether the patent if valid. If it is found valid, there are three more trials scheduled to attempt to establish that the biggest players on the Internet including Google and Yahoo! have infringed on the patent and owe the University of California and little Eolas a large settlement.

The company figures about $600 million ought to do the trick.

Further Reading:

The Eolas Patent Troll Trial

World Wide Web Creator Tim Berners-Lee Testifies at Eolas Patent Trial


Written by digitalanalogues

February 9, 2012 at 5:28 PM

2 Responses

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  1. Wow! I can only hope that this legal challenge is unsuccessful. Imagine if all of these companies suddenly had to start paying royalties to Doyle. I imagine those additional expenses would be passed onto the consumer, which eventually would mean we’d all end up paying more. As you point out, it would also stifle growth of new companies and technologies. Unbelievable!

    Blake Wood

    February 12, 2012 at 1:42 PM

  2. For better trolling results, cast a world-wide net. Geeesh.

    To this new student of interactive technology, the argument that the Eolas tech company owns a patent to profit on the interactive properties commonly found on the web seems a (big) stretch. I know we’re a litigious society, but come on! Just because a lawyer will take your case doesn’t mean it’s worth tying up the courts and a million web commentaries to discuss it.

    Then I read the links you posted, which gave it a little bit more credibility.

    And the University of California’s involvement gives the claim a slightly better aroma, too, but it still reeks of opportunism. Apparently a $30 million windfall from the earlier Microsoft nuisance case bought Eolas a lot of friends on campus. The Board of Trustees at UC can tolerate the awkward position it has placed them in for another potentially lucrative payout.

    I sincerely hope the judges give the plaintiff a fair hearing, an ‘A’ for audacity and then a severe tongue lashing for trying to squeeze more settlements out of successful web companies. I hope ‘inventor’ Michael David Doyle’s patent claim is deemed indefensible and tossed for overlapping with too much other tech-work within the field. Even during the nascent days of in the internet, there had to be multiple users trying to figure out how to get a video to play online.

    This one will be worth watching.


    February 13, 2012 at 2:49 PM

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