Patents on Web Standards

Index of Selected Patents on Web Standards

Microsoft's "Style Sheet" Patent

5,860,073 (Class 707/ 522). This is Microsoft's "Style sheets for publishing system" patent (U.S.), awarded January 12, 1999. Here is the abstract:

The use of style sheets in an electronic publishing system is described. A style sheet is a collection of formatting information, such as font and tabs in a textual document. The style sheets described herein are applied to individual display regions (controls) on a page. Unlike previous systems, the display regions in this system do not contain any text at the time the style sheet is applied. Rather, the text, or other media such as graphics, is poured into the display region when the title is rendered on the customer's computer.

Microsoft's "style sheet" patent caused significant controversy for several reasons. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a web standards body of which Microsoft was a member, was working on creating a standard for cascading style sheets at the same time Microsoft was attempting to gain its patent. Apparently, Microsoft did not inform the W3C that it had filed for a patent on style sheets. A Feb. 4, 1999 press release (referenced below) from the Web Standards Project mentions possible conflicts between Microsoft's patent and its work with the W3C.

"U.S. Patent No. 5860073 appears to include key concepts used in W3C's Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and eXtensible Style Language (XSL) standards, which could potentially require these currently-open standards to be licensed from Microsoft."

"If the CSS and XSL standards are in fact covered by the patent, WSP believes Microsoft, which participated in W3C's development of these standards, should immediately take legal steps to ensure these Web standards remain openly available on a nondiscriminatory basis, assuming that it has not already done so."

Critics of U.S. Patent 5,860,073 point to possible prior art that (if it had been considered before the patent was issued) may cast doubt on the patent's validity. As Gregory Aharonian noted in a Internet Patent News Service bulletin (referenced below):

"Additionally, as many have point out, the technique of template style sheets has been around since the 1970s, which would have greatly affectly the outcome of the issued patent had any of this prior art been considered by the PTO examiner. Of course, with filthy rich Microsoft exhibiting its usual contempt for the patent system by refusing to do a serious prior art search for the patent, the examiner did not have the luxury of being able to examine this prior art."

Resources on Microsoft's Style Sheet Patent:

Related Articles:

Eolas Technologies' "Applet" Patent

  • 5,838,906. This is Eolas (Eolas is an acronym for "Embedded Objects Linked Across Systems") Technologies' "Applet" patent, granted on November 17, 1998 and entitled "Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document." Here is that abstract:

    A system allowing a user of a browser program on a computer connected to an open distributed hypermedia system to access and execute an embedded program 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 object executes on the user's (client) 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. One application of the embedded program object allows a user to view large and complex multi-dimensional objects from within the browser's window. The user can manipulate a control panel to change the viewpoint used to view the image. The invention allows a program to execute on a remote server or other computers to calculate the viewing transformations and send frame data to the client computer thus providing the user of the client computer with interactive features and allowing the user to have access to greater computing power than may be available at the user's client computer.

    The '906 patent is assigned to the Regents of the University of California. In 1995, Eolas entered into a licensing agreement with the University of California, giving the firm exclusive commercial rights to the then-pending '906 patent. Eolas' founder, Michael Doyle, is listed as one of the inventors in the '906 patent. Before founding Eolas, Doyle was the director of UCSF's computing center.

    Essentially, the '906 patent covers the ability of web browsers (such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer) to access programs (such as applets and plug-ins) embedded in webpages. In the December 3, 1998 edition of his "Cringely Pulpit", (referenced below), Robert Cringely commented on the sweeping claims of the '906 patent.

    "Read the patent, and you'll see it covers the use of embedded program objects, or applets within Web documents. The patent also covers the use of any algorithm that implements dynamic, bi-directional communications between Web browsers and external applications. Every Web browser you can name currently supports embedded applets, and is therefore in violation of the Eolas patent. But wait, there's more! The Eolas patent covers the whole concept of executable content, which is at the very foundation of Java. So it looks like Java, too, is in violation of the patent. For that matter, so is Microsoft's Internet Explorer and ActiveX."

    Litigation Involving Eolas' "Applet" Patent

    In February 1999, Eolas sued Microsoft in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago) for alleged infringement of its '906 patent. According to an Eolas press release dated February 2, 1999, the suit focuses on Microsoft's

    "infringement of United States Patent 5,838,906 ('906) by Microsoft's various web-enabled operating system and application products, including Windows 98, Windows 95 and Internet Explorer... The suit asks the court for both unspecified damages for the infringing activity and for an injunction to force Microsoft to cease all future manufacturing, use and sale of infringing products."

    Court Documents from Eolas Technologies, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation (No. 99 C 0626)

    Articles, press releases etc. about the Eolas '906 Patent

    Questions, comments and suggestions to Vergil Bushnell

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