The Eolas Boondoggle

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.

Music: The Ethiopians :: Hong Kong Flu

6 Replies to “The Eolas Boondoggle”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Scot’s concerns, as a former plugin developer I spent a LOT of time making things a seamless as possible.

    The one ‘ray of sunshine’ (if any in this) is Eolas could have gone after ‘lesser’ targets such as the Mozilla projects or even Apple (for Safari). For once Microsofts own success (why bother with only a few percent of the market ?) is coming back to bite them.

  2. It also shows that patenting ideas (as opposed to patenting the implementation of an idea, as it is the case with machinery patents) is an eminently contraproductive (and arrogant) concept.

  3. Sean, this is brilliant. Of course, Notes… it seems so clear in retrospect, all those pre-web Ziff years years spent using Notes all the time. Too bad he used only spreadsheet objects for the demo rather than “moving” media. Thanks for that.

  4. Actually, I think that his use of the spreadsheet was actually more important, because it shows the two-way data link (as opposed to the one-way nature of most streaming video/flash/etc.)

  5. This reminds me of the Comptons New Media suite of about 1993-94, claiming patent rights to the concept of “interactive multimedia”. Could’ve killed or hobbled the whole CD-rom biz that was just gearing up then.

    When the din of the outraged “offenders” grew too loud Comptons ultimately backed off in a move that was designed to look magnanimous, but really reinforced the fact that they were foolish to publicly act as if they might have ever gotten that horse back in the barn.

    And where is Comptons today?

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