The move by the World Wide Web Consortium puts the group squarely behind Microsoft in a patent-infringement lawsuit that. A federal jury ruled against Microsoft in August and awarded $521 million to a former University of California researcher who holds the patent the Web consortium now wants revoked.
The Web group contends that the patent, based on work done by Michael Doyle, founder of Eolas Technologies in Chicago, while he was an adjunct professor at the University of California at San Francisco, was improperly granted. In a filing with the patent office, the Web consortium asserts that the ideas in the Eolas patent had previously been published as prior art, a legal term. That prior art was not considered when the patent was granted, or in the Microsoft trial, and thus the patent claims should be invalidated, the consortium contends.
In a long letter Tuesday, Tim Berners-Lee, the consortium director, who created the basic software standards for the Web, said the patent office should begin a review of the patent "to prevent substantial economic and technical damage to the operation of the World Wide Web."
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The technology in question lets a Web browser summon programs automatically over the Internet. The programs that use this technology include those for playing music, videos and animations and for exchanging documents over the Internet. The technology has become a standard feature in the software for coding Web pages, called Hypertext Markup Language.
To comply with the court ruling, Microsoft has told several software companies and the Web consortium that itbrowser, the on-ramp to the Web for 90 percent of computer users. That, the Web consortium warned, could including the RealNetworks music player, Apple Computer's QuickTime video program, Macromedia's Flash, Adobe Systems' document reader, and Web-scripting languages like Sun Microsystems' Java. In addition, the standards group said, Web pages across the Internet might have to be modified to adjust to changes made by Microsoft to comply with the court ruling.
The Web consortium has representatives from many technology companies, including competitors of Microsoft. But after discussions among the consortium members, the group agreed that there was an overriding broader interest in challenging the patent, thus helping Microsoft.
"There was a real recognition that the issues here go way beyond one company losing a lot of money in a lawsuit," said Daniel J. Weitzner, director for technology and society activities at the Web consortium. "And we really are persuaded that the patent is invalid."
In the trial, Microsoft did claim that there was prior art that undermined the claims of the Eolas patent. But in its filing, the Web consortium offers different examples including pre-Internet era software like Write, a word processing program included with the Windows 3.1 operating system, which included software for summoning and displaying other programs. That, the standards group said, is the same basic function and idea described in the Eolas patent.
A spokesman for Microsoft, Lou Gellos, said Microsoft had not seen the Web consortium's filing. "It's news to us," he said.
The attorneys representing Eolas and Doyle could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
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