Patent finding menaces inventor's huge award

Doyle won $521 million in case against Microsoft

March 06, 2004|By Barbara Rose | Barbara Rose,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

In a potential threat to a Chicago inventor's $521 million jury award against Microsoft Corp., U.S. patent examiners have made a preliminary finding that his patent never should have been issued.

The finding is the first step in a process that could invalidate the 6-year-old patent claimed by Michael Doyle, founder of Eolas Technologies Inc., which licenses the technology.

He and the University of California, which owns the patent, claim rights to widely used technology that allows Web browsers to launch programs, such as the plug-ins that play music.

Eolas and the university won one of the largest verdicts in patent-infringement history in August when a federal jury decided that Microsoft had illegally incorporated the features into Internet Explorer and bundled it with Windows. Microsoft has appealed the verdict.

The patent re-examination - a separate process - stemmed from an outcry sparked by the court case. Companies, including longtime rival Apple Computer Inc., joined Microsoft in devising software changes to allow developers to work around Doyle's patent.

Tim Behrners-Lee, referred to by some as the father of the Internet, appealed last fall to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, claiming - as Microsoft did in court - that Doyle was not the first person to use browsers to make Web pages interactive.

Late last month, the patent office issued a preliminary determination that Doyle's claims were not eligible for a patent because they were not new.

"We have maintained all along that, when scrutinized closely, this patent would be ruled invalid," Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said yesterday.

The university and Doyle have 60 days to respond.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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