A small Chicago company has asked a federal court to bar distribution of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer, claiming in a lawsuit that Microsoft has infringed on a broad technology patent granted to the Chicago firm late last year.
In the complaint filed in a Chicago federal district court, Eolas Technology charged Microsoft with infringing on a patent it holds for technology that allows a Web browser to access interactive programs embedded in a Web page, such as plug-ins, applets or ActiveX controls.
The patent, number 5,838,906, was granted to Eolas on Nov. 17, 1998, and can be viewed on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site at http://www.uspto.gov/. The patent describes in part "a system allowing a user of a browser program . . . to access and execute an embedded program object."
Several of Microsoft's Web-enabled products infringe on the patent, including Windows 98, Windows 95 and Internet Explorer, the suit alleges. Eolas is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction forcing Microsoft to stop manufacturing the products until the case comes to trial.
While Eolas' lawsuit names only Microsoft, Eolas' founder and chief executive officer, Michael Doyle, acknowledged that the broad patent could potentially apply to any product on the market that uses a system for accessing executable programs in Web pages.
"It's a generic technology patent that covers any product like that," Doyle said. "Our technology is being used worldwide."
Neither Doyle nor his lawyer would comment on why the firm singled out Microsoft with the lawsuit. Neither would they comment on whether Netscape Communications, which makes the popular Navigator browser, could be another potential offender.
Microsoft said it was alerted to the lawsuit by the press and has not yet had time to review the complaint, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern division.
"We don't have any comment on the substance of this right now," Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said.
Microsoft will have 20 days from the time it receives the complaint to file a written response, said Eolas lead attorney Martin Lueck, of the Chicago law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP. The complex case is unlikely to come to trial in less than two years because of busy courts in Chicago, Lueck said.
Doyle said he was head of research team which developed the technology in the early 1990s while working on software systems that would provide medical practitioners with inexpensive, interactive access to 3-D medical images over the Internet.
"We quickly realised the technology could be used to embed any kind of a program into a Web page," Doyle said.
The team filed for the patent in 1994, shortly before Eolas was founded. Doyle said Eolas is a "research and development" company which develops technologies for license to third parties. A subsidiary, Eolas Development , also uses the technology in Web tools and applications which it markets and sells.