I generally applaud judgments against Microsoft — they too rarely reap what they sow, and a little smattering of justice every now and then feels karmically right. But this Eolas thing is out of hand. The suit is targeted at MS, but ultimately affects every browser vendor and every Web developer.
In a nutshell, Eolas has a 1994 patent on the ability to seamlessly pull plugin data into a web browser. Read that sentence again. In the web atmosphere, that’s the equivalent of saying someone has a patent on breathing without assistance.
If the suit is not successfully appealed, web developers will have to retool every instance of embedded Flash, QuickTime, Shockwave, Real, Acrobat, etc. to make the experience not seamless. We may have to launch everything in external players, for example, or throw up a dialog before rich media content is able to play. Right back to 1994, yippee.
Intellectual property is important, but determining how original an idea has to be to warrant a patent is a difficult thing. Once a patent is issued, it’s very hard to recall. No matter how you slice it, allowing one company to retroactively reshape a huge slice of an industry — with a negative effect on innocent users no less — is just wrong.
I can only imagine how much more difficult this would make the teaching of our multimedia skills class.