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|Founder(s)||Michael David Doyle|
|Headquarters||Tyler, Texas, United States|
Eolas (Irish pronunciation: [ˈoːl̪ˠəsˠ], meaning "Knowledge"; bacronym: "Embedded Objects Linked Across Systems") is a United States technology company. It was founded in 1994 by sole employee Michael David Doyle. His University of California, San Francisco team has claimed to have created the first web browser that supported plugins. They demonstrated it at Xerox PARC, in November 1993, at the second Bay Area SIGWEB meeting. The claim that this was an innovation, advanced to justify their patent application, has been contested by Pei-Yuan Wei, who developed the earlier Viola browser, which added plugin capabilities in 1992, a claim supported by inventor of the WWW Sir Tim Berners-Lee and other Web pioneers. Given only a short time to prepare, Wei was only able to demonstrate Viola's equivalent capabilities for local rather than remote files at the 2003 Eolas v. Microsoft trial, and thus fell short of proving prior art to the court's satisfaction. The case with Microsoft over patent 5,838,906 was settled in 2007 for a confidential amount of money after an initial $565 million judgment was stayed on appeal, but the University of California, disclosed its piece of the final settlement as $30.4 million. In 2009 Eolas sued numerous other companies over patent number 7,599,985 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. As of June 2011, a number of these companies, including Texas Instruments, Oracle and JPMorgan Chase have signed licensing deals with Eolas, while the company continues to seek payoffs from others.
In September 1995, the founders of Eolas released WebRouser, a proof-of-concept browser based on Mosaic that implemented plugins, client-side image maps, and web-page-defined browser buttons and menus. In 2005, Doyle released 'Muze', a "multimedia doodling application".
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US patent 5,838,906, titled "Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document," was filed on October 17, 1994 and granted on November 17, 1998.
In Autumn 2003, the inventor of the World Wide Web and the Director of the W3C Consortium Tim Berners-Lee wrote to Under Secretary of Commerce, asking to invalidate this patent, in order to "eliminate this major impediment to the operation of the Web". Leaders of Open Source Community sided with Microsoft in fighting the patent due to its threat to the free nature of the Web and to the basic established HTML standards. The specific concerns of having one company (Eolas) controlling a critical piece of the Web framework were cited.
In March 2004, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) re-examined and initially rejected the patent. Eolas submitted a rebuttal in May 2004. On September 27, 2005, the USPTO upheld the validity of the patent. The PTO ruling rejected the relevance of Pei Wei's Viola code to the Eolas patent. According to the University of California press release, "In its 'Reasons for Patentability/Confirmation' notice, the patent examiner rejected the arguments for voiding UC's previously approved patent claims for the Web-browser technology as well as the evidence presented to suggest that the technology had been developed prior to the UC innovation. The examiner considered the Viola reference the primary reference asserted by Microsoft at trial as a prior art publication and found that Viola does 'not teach nor fairly suggest that instant 906 invention, as claimed.'"
In 1999, Eolas filed suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Microsoft over validity and use of the patent. Eolas won the initial case in August 2003 and was awarded damages of $521 million from Microsoft for infringement. The District Court reaffirmed the jury's decision in January 2004.
In June 2004, Microsoft appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In March 2005, the District Court judgment was remanded, but the infringement and damages parts of the case were upheld. The appeals court ruled that the two Viola-related exhibits that had been thrown out of the original trial needed to be shown to a jury in a retrial. Microsoft quickly filed for a rehearing.
In October 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Microsoft's appeal, leaving intact the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Eolas with respect to foreign sales of Microsoft Windows. However, the remand to District Court had not been heard yet.
In May 2007, the USPTO agreed to allow Microsoft to argue ownership of the patent after they reissued a Microsoft patent that covers the same concepts as outlined in the Eolas patent, and contains wording that mirrors the Eolas patent. The USPTO ruled in favor of Eolas on that matter in September 2007.
Microsoft and Eolas agreed in July 2007 to delay a pending re-trial, in order to negotiate a settlement. On August 27, 2007, Eolas reported to its shareholders that a settlement had been reached and that Eolas expected to pay a substantial dividend as a result; the exact amount and terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
In October 2009, Eolas sued a number of large corporations for infringement of the same patent. The sued corporations include Adobe, Amazon.com, Apple, Argosy Publishing, Blockbuster, CDW Corp., Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, The Go Daddy Group, Google, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., New Frontier Media Inc., Office Depot Inc., Perot Systems Corp., Playboy Enterprises International Inc., Rent-A-Center Inc., Staples Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Yahoo! Inc., and YouTube LLC. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, writing in Computerworld's opinion section, called Eolas a patent troll after these lawsuits were initiated. As of June 2011, a number of these companies, including Texas Instruments, Oracle and JPMorgan Chase have signed licensing deals with Eolas, while others are still litigating.
In February 2012 a Texas jury found that two of Eolas' patents were invalid after testimony from several defendants including Tim Berners-Lee and Pei-Yuan Wei, credited as creator of the Viola browser. The testimony professed that the Viola browser included Eolas' claimed inventions before the filing date (September 7, 1993). There is "substantial evidence that Viola was publicly known and used" before the plaintiffs' alleged conception date, it added. The ruling effectively ends a pending lawsuit against 22 companies including Yahoo, Google, and many online retailers.
In February 2006, Microsoft modified its Internet Explorer web browser to appear to side-step the Eolas patent. The change, first discussed in 2003, requires users to click once on an ActiveX control to "activate" it before they can use its interface. The specific message is "Click to activate this control", shown as a tooltip when the cursor is held over the embedded object. However, following a November 2007 announcement that Microsoft had "licensed the technologies from Eolas", in April 2008, Microsoft released an update which removed the click-to-activate functionality, reverting the software to its original design.
Developers of other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari might feel obliged to either implement a similar change to attempt to avoid infringement or to license Eolas' patent. Doyle has stated that Eolas would offer royalty-free licenses to non-commercial entities. A statement on Eolas' web site clarifies the company's policy with regard to such licenses. As of 2007[update], no Eolas license has been granted to the Mozilla Foundation which develops the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser.