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Patent Mess or Patent Opportunity?

There’s much discussion today about Microsoft’s legal problem with plug-ins. Most of the discussion runs around the fact that EOLAS claims to have a patent on plug-ins. But it may be good for Mozilla.

Back when the patent was issued, Mike Doyle of EOLAS said in a message to www-talk, a World Wide Web Consortium mailing list that:

Please note from our Web site that, in almost all cases, Eolas’ Weblet-related technologies will be licensed free of charge for noncommercial use.

Well, looking at this, Mozilla could be in a very good position as the only browser currently not infringing.

The other interesting thing is all of this is the fact that there seems to be some prior art. EOLAS may claim that they invented the method but it was available before they announced it and before they held the patent. The idea in itself was hardly new by the time they filed their patent. Much discussion (though I can’t seem to source that one) on some of the early web development mailing lists around 1993-1994 called for the implementation of an OBJECT tag instead of the IMG which was considered too limited (that tag itself being an invention created by Marc Andreesen, of Netscape fame, as part of the Mosaic browser). I wish I still had the old email where I was shouting Marc down for thinking too small and not looking at embedding things like music, movies, etc… using a tag that would have a mime-type as one of its required fields. If anyone has preserved one of those emails (the conversation happened early to mid-1993, as far as I remember), please send me email and I’ll post it.

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