Eolas and Prior Art

I got distracted after reading the “Saving the Browser” piece by Ray Ozzie. I ended doing a search on Eolas and prior art. One of the items I found was a Memorandum Opinion and Order by the judge. The judge concludes:

  1. An “executable application,” as used in the ’906 Patent, is any computer program code, that is not the operating system or a utility, that is launched to enable an end-user to directly interact with data.
  2. “Type Information” may include the name of an application associated with the object.
  3. “Utilized by said browser to identify and locate” means that the enumerated functions are performed by the browser. This is a fact-intensive inquiry.

The original patent applications were rejected several times for infringing on existing patents on invoking executables based on content and OLE technology. If I understand the paper correctly, the judge bases his conclusion on the facts that invoking executables is closely linked to the operating system and not system independent as envisioned in the Eolas patent.  The OLE patent was not pertinent because it had limited scope and functionality. It appears that the patent office in rejecting the original applications was looking for a much narrower patent than the one they eventually approved. So what happened?

IMHO, I believe the “heavy lifting” of invention was done by the folks who worked on OLE and the browser helper applications. I do not see any contribution made by Eolas to the invention process. I think that Lotus Notes R3 is pertinent prior art since there is a question of the functionality of OLE. The extension of the OLE concept to invoke an embedded application by the browser appears to be a trivial extension. As Perry Pei-Yuan Wei points out, the Viola browser demonstrated applications embedded on a web page a year prior to the patent application by Eolas. He also complained to the Eolas founder, Michael Doyle,  in 1994 about his prior art when Doyle announced he was going to patent this technology. It is interesting to note that Viola was not mentioned in the patent application or in the court case.