Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Patent Trolling" to Threaten Web Innovation?

According to this article by Wired, a biologist, Michael Doyle, and his team of lawyers from Eolas Technologies are claiming that Doyle and two others created and patented the concept of interactive web (using a web browser to interact with content) at the University of California in 1993.  They are currently suing big-name companies like Apple, Citigroup, and eBay and could potentially win.

Eolas is no stranger to the courtroom and is also known for suing Microsoft for patent infringement in 1999 where they earned the named "patent troll" by some in the industry.  This trial and its appeal is now being used as a tool today's trial:
...the PTO initially rejected the Eolas patent claims in reexams, Doyle and his lawyers were dogged in insisting they had the right to some kind of patent claim. The office ultimately reversed course — a fact now being trumpeted to an East Texas jury by Eolas’ lawyers. 
Eolas’ lawyers have actually used the struggle against the patent to bolster their claim that it’s an important invention. Mike McKool, the lead lawyer for Eolas, told the jury during opening statements that tech companies have been attacking the patent ever since 1995 — when it was still three years away from issuing.
As many as 30 companies have been targeted in Texas (including GoDaddy, JC Penney, and Staples) and only 8 remain with the rest having decided to settle.  Eolas valued over $600 million is owed to them (by the remaining companies) due to the infringement.  Because of this high-profile case even Tim Berners-Lee, the current director of World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and inventor of the web, testified at the trial yesterday:
A succession of pioneers of the early web — including the web’s father, Tim Berners-Lee himself — have flown in from around the world to denounce two software patents they believe threaten the future of web innovation....Berners-Lee ended up testifying to an eight-person jury in East Texas on Tuesday morning, restating to some degree an argument he made in Scientific American in 2010 — that patents could be a serious threat to the future of the Web. In the Eolas case, it looks like Berners-Lee’s nightmare may be about to come true. 
Let's assume that Doyle and the 2 others did create the concept of interactive web.  If successful, how do you think this will this patent case affect American current patent laws, famous American-based web services, and new entrants in the industry? Do you believe this will open up more opportunities for patent trolling around the world?

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