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Eolas sues corporate giants over Web technology

In a bigger sequel to its years-long patent infringement case against Microsoft, Eolas has sued Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Frito-Lay, Playboy, and many others.

Eolas Technologies, a company that ground through a years-long patent infringement lawsuit against Microsoft, now has sued a large swath of corporate powers for infringement of that same patent and another related patent concerning interactive programs on Web sites.

The list of defendants includes many high-profile companies inside and outside the tech world: Adobe Systems, Amazon, Apple, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, Go Daddy, Google, J.C. Penney, JPMorgan Chase, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Playboy Enterprises, Staples, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments, Yahoo, and YouTube.

Eolas' suit is not to be taken lightly. Although the earlier Microsoft case took many years to resolve, and Eolas by no means won a complete victory, the patent involved did overall withstand heavy legal challenges despite many on the Web rallying to Microsoft's aid. Microsoft and Eolas won't describe terms of their 2007 settlement of the patent case, but Eolas did say it expected to pay its shareholders a 2007 dividend afterward.

"What distinguishes this case from most patent suits is that so many established companies named as defendants are infringing a patent that has been ruled valid by the Patent Office on three occasions," said Mike McKool, head of the national law firm McKool Smith and Eolas' lead attorney.

This diagram shows one example of the newly granted Eolas patent 7,599,985 in use.
This diagram shows one example of the newly granted Eolas patent 7,599,985 in use. Eolas

The U.S. District Court suit, filed in the eastern district of Texas, seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the plaintiffs from using the patented technology; payment for damages from infringement, including treble damages because the alleged infringement was willful; attorney's fees; and a jury trial.

Eolas conducts research and development but also has a separate licensing department. "Eolas seeks to return value to its shareholders by commercializing these technologies through strategic alliances, licensing and spin-offs," the company says of itself.

The earlier Microsoft case involved U.S. patent 5,838,906, "Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document," which involved browsers launching a helper application such as Adobe Flash.

In the new case, that patent is joined by a newer one granted Tuesday, No., 7,599,985, with a very similar title: "Distributed hypermedia method and system for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document."

"The '985 Patent is a continuation of the '906 patent, and allows Web sites to add fully-interactive embedded applications to their online offerings through the use of plug-in and Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) Web development techniques," Eolas said in a statement about the lawsuit.

Ajax caught on midway through the decade as a way to endow Web pages with interactive features based in part on the JavaScript programming language. Ajax is used in many Web sites including Google Maps and Yahoo Mail.

The '985 patent, originally filed Aug. 9, 2002, involves a program embedded in a Web page--or "hypermedia document," as the patent language calls it more generally. Here's an excerpt from the patent abstract's description of the technology:

A system allowing user of a browser program on a computer connected to an open distributed hypermedia to access and execute an embedded programming object. The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects.

The user may select the program object from the screen. Once selected the program executes on the user's (client's) computer or may execute on a remote server or additional remote computers in a distributed processing arrangement.

After launching the program object, the user is able to interact with the object as the invention provides for ongoing interprocess communication between the application object (program) and the browser program.

And later, in a bit more detail:

The present invention allows a user at a client computer connected to a network to locate, retrieve, and manipulate objects in an interactive way. The invention not only allows the user to use a hypermedia format to locate and retrieve program objects, but also allows the user to interact with an application program located at a remote computer.

Interprocess communication between the hypermedia browser and the embedded application program is ongoing after the program object has been launched. The use is able to use a vast amount of computing power beyond that which is contained in the user's client computer.

Apple, Google, Yahoo, Texas Instruments, and Office Depot each declined to comment on the suit. Staples, Playboy, Sun, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, J.C. Penney, JPMorgan Chase, Adobe, and Perot Systems didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Driscoll, vice president of public relations for Go Daddy, said in a statement, "We have not seen the lawsuit and, therefore, cannot comment on it. However, we are unaware of the basis for any such claims and we will defend the case vigorously."

Updated 1:26 p.m., 2:09 p.m., 2:35 p.m., and 4:08 p.m. PDT with comment from companies.