Major Victory for Tech Firms Against “Plug-In” Patent Infringement Claims

By Joseph Mandour on July 26, 2013

Patent Dispute Los Angeles – An appeals court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling for Google, Inc., Yahoo, Inc., and Amazon.com, Inc. against patent infringement claims brought by Eolas Technologies, Inc.

The decision, originally made by a jury in 2012 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas, invalidated two patents held by Michael Doyle for interactive internet technology.

Doyle was a computer programmer at University of California, San Francisco in 1993 when he oversaw a project that allowed multiple scientists to watch a live streaming video simultaneously over the Internet for the first time.  Along with David Martin and Cheong Ang, Doyle filed for patent protection for this innovation in October 1994, and the University of California sponsored his application.

The patent was granted in November 1998, with U.S. Patent Number 5,838,906, titled “Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document.”

Michael Doyle formed Eolas Technologies to defend his patents, which were some of the earliest granted for Internet related innovations.  The company, which sells no products, has made millions of dollars from lawsuits against major Internet retailers for infringement of Doyle’s inventions.

This decision struck a major blow to Eolas.  Eolas claimed that protection of its patent, first granted in 1998, extended to all interactive features on websites, known as plug-ins, which include auto-fill, embedded videos, and map technology.

Eolas has argued that nearly every major website today violates its patents and has aggressively defended its rights through a multitude of lawsuits.

In 1999, Eolas brought patent infringement claims against Microsoft for aspects of its Internet Explorer browser.  A jury found Microsoft liable for $540 million in damages to Eolas, but the two sides settled out of court after Microsoft agreed to pay more than $100 million to Eolas and its co-plaintiff, the University of California.

Since then, Eolas has sued countless other corporations for the interactive elements of their websites.  Even after its 2012 jury loss, Eolas brought patent infringement lawsuits against The Walt Disney Company, ESPN, Inc., Facebook, Inc., and others.

Doyle has been demonized by the technology industry as a “patent troll,” a term used to describe people who claim broad interpretations of their patents to extract settlements from corporations.  The World Wide Web Consortium spoke out against the ‘906 patent in 2003, as the internet standards-setting body presented evidence of prior inventions which it claimed invalidated Doyle’s patent.

This most current loss looks to likely bring an end to patent infringement lawsuits by Eolas, so companies will be more free to use interactive website technology without risk of infringement.

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Posted in: Patent Infringement