Thursday, March 22, 2012
Texas Jury Invalidates Patent on the “Interactive Web”
Photo Entitled "sorry-no-internet-today-2.half" by Timsparke on Flickr
On February 9, 2012, an eight-member jury in the East Texas Federal District Court decided that a patent claiming ownership of the interactive web was invalid. Michael Doyle and his patent-holding company Eolas Technologies brought a patent infringement suit against some of the largest companies in the world, including, among others, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, YouTube, and Apple. The thrust of the claim was that a patent gave Doyle and his company ownership over certain features of the interactive web, including rotating pictures and streaming video.
Though the USPTO initially rejected the patent after it was filed in 1994, even after several re-examinations, Doyle persisted and eventually received the fought for patent in 1998. After the USPTO awarded the patent to Doyle and his company, they failed to put it to any practical use. Eolas holds many patents relating to the technology industry, and the only use it makes of them is to sue others for infringement. Another well-known case was an infringement action brought against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, for which Eolas received a hefty settlement. These actions led many critics to give Doyle and his company the loathsome title of “patent troll.”
The defendants in the “interactive web” infringement suit argued vehemently that it was not Doyle’s invention, but rather Pei-Yuan Wei and his Viola browser, or Dave Raggett and his <embed> tag, that brought about the interactive web. In the end, the East Texas jury decided in favor of the defendants and found that Doyle’s patent was invalid. The defendants avoided a potential $600 million verdict, and perhaps a more challenging fate of needing to find a work-around for Doyle’s patent.
Though a patent holder is not required to make use of his patent, the actions of Doyle and Eolas Technologies highlight the nightmare that “patent trolls” can cause. The defendants in this lawsuit were forced to spend millions of dollars defending themselves against these infringement claims, as well as the possibility of losing the right to use the very technology that their companies were built upon. Perhaps public policy should call for a change to patent law wherein patent holders lose their right to the patent if they do not implement it after a certain number of years.
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