More news about the plugin patent case

September 12th, 2003 § 4 comments

More news about the Eolas’ patent case regarding the use of plugins in hypertext documents: a federal judge rejected Microsoft’s first post-trial claim, in which the company alleged that Eolas had misrepresented the facts in the case. The company is already planning an appeal.

That is a very bad news since it implies that Microsoft may soon be forced to change IE to comply with the judicial decision, removing the support to embedded plugins in the browser. If that happens, it means applications that rely on such technology will have to be converted. Also, it means that companies like Macromedia, which has a whole business around the technology, may suffer severe economic drawbacks. Finally, it means that other companies and organizations that develop browsers will be forced to change their products as well. Needless to say, all those actions will cost an enormous amount of money.

On the other hand, the patent is very specific, and, as the article shows, solutions can and are being devised to work around those specificities. Obviously, there will be problems and costs with any chosen approach, but they are better than simply dropping all support to the technology. Some of the suggestions suggested by the members of the W3C, which congregates most of the companies affected by the decision, are: the use of dialog boxes prior the execution of a plugin, as it works around the patent requirement of an automated launching of the plugin; and the embedding of the plugin data in the page itself, as it works around the parent requirement of a connection to an external source. Each solution has its drawbacks, which will have to be addressed if they are really implemented.

In my opinion, however, the case may end up resulting in some benefits to the industry. Many things that required plugins today could be replaced by DHTML solutions if its support were to be improved in browsers. Many of the things only possible today using either Flash or ActiveX would be doable in DHTML with a more powerful implementation of both the DOM and scripting technologies.

The case raises some questions about how the W3C and the companies creating Web technologies must react to patents. Ironically, the W3C published its own patent policy not long ago, although, of course, it only applies to its members. The case also brings to the table once again the subject of improper patents conceded without regards to prior art.

Anyway, there’s still a long way to go in this case, and some waiting will be necessary before anything is really decided. But one thing is sure: the Internet has a long history of routing around damage, and I don’t think the history will be different this time.

§ 4 Responses to More news about the plugin patent case"

  • MikeyC says:

    “Many of the things only possible today using either Flash or ActiveX would be doable in DHTML”

    Let’s not forget SVG. This decision could turn out to be the catalyst that drives browser-makers to get native-SVG support up and running.

    Personally, I’m not a big fan on plugins, and I have to admit that deep down this entire episode has got me a little bit giddy with glee… if it kills Flash then I’m happy… if it ends up indirectly killing Mozilla… that would obviously suck.

  • Ronaldo says:

    I had forgotten SVG. It would be indeed a good opportunity to advance a lot of Web standards, including SVG, DHTML, MathML and SMIL.

    I don’t like Flash either, and I don’t care if Macromedia is forced to abandon it. However, I don’t know how much Flash-related products account for its revenue, and I wouldn’t like to see it forced to abandon other good products because it needs that money.

    I hope Mozilla Foundation is not harmed as well.

  • Keith Post says:

    Although I don’t care much for plugins the upheld ruling against MS could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for designers and developers or God forbid a lose big win all situation for MS. Right now it’s hard to tell. Regardless I’m hopeful that the Mozilla Foundation will servive this turn of events.

    I admit to having been one of those who jumped on the Flash bandwagon early on. Of coarse at that time it seemed to be a good alternative to cross-browser compatibility issues. Not only that but in the beginning it paid well and was kind of cool. Of coarse it to had its own issues. Within the last couple of years though Flash for me has become more of a novelty for creating cards or entertaining friends and colleges. Besides updating a full-blown Flash website can become a major issue (frustrating headache). Especially if it’s something you didn’t design initially.

    If the latest major browsers releases are any indication of what we can expect in future releases maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little brighter (my fingers are crossed). For those of us who are serious about website design and development and know its history it’s a welcomed relieve that the major browser developers are beginning to support more of the W3C recommendations for the XML family tree, CSS stylesheets, and maybe even eventually EMCASript and a native SVG Model.

    Of coarse we can’t forget the continued efforts of the WaSP who has been a major player in pushing for web standardization for sometime now. Maybe eventually we’ll all be able to focus more the business of (easy access for all) good website design instead of trying to work out complex proprietary compatibility issues. Would that be a kick

  • Ronaldo says:

    With the news that the U.S. Patent Office will review Eolas’s patent, it seems we may be safe from its worse effects. Nonetheless, knowing how the Office works, it’s too early to say anything :-) I hope it all turns ok, however.

    Anyway, I agree with your assessment of Flash. It’s a great tool within specific niche, but many people think it’s is the one and only solution for all Web problems. I hope that, as browsers evolve, we become less dependent of Flash. I’ve developed cross-platform applications in the past months using native XML support in the browsers, and I’m satified with the results.

    I think blogs have helped a lot in that process. Developments are happening in the open (Ian Hickson and others come to mind), and that has benefited us all. I also hope it goes on.

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