Microsoft updates IE after patent spat

Browser tweaks are response to ongoing patent infringement dispute with Eolas, University of California.

Microsoft on Tuesday made broadly available an Internet Explorer update related to a high-profile patent spat with a start-up backed by the University of California.

The update changes how the browser handles Web programs known as ActiveX controls. The changes can impact how certain sites display. Microsoft recommends Web developers tweak their pages or consumers will have to make an extra click to get to some content, such as Macromedia Flash-based animations or media content.

"We expect these changes will have little to no impact on customer experience and partner applications," a Microsoft representative said Tuesday.

Microsoft is modifying IE to shield itself from liability in a long-running patent dispute with Eolas Technologies and the University of California. Microsoft expects a second trial in the case to start sometime this year after a federal appeals court last March partially reversed a lower-court decision that exposed it to more than $500 million in damages.

In September, the U.S. Patent Office upheld the validity of the patent at issue in the case.

Microsoft is delivering the IE update in phases. The company last December said it would make the tweaks and a month later made the update available on MSDN, its Web site for developers. The update is now available to the general public as an optional download via and Microsoft's Download Center Web site.

"Microsoft expects the vast majority of existing IE customers will download the update as part of ongoing security updates in the next four to six months," the Microsoft representative said.

The update is available for IE 6 on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 with SP 1, the Microsoft representative said.

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