Patent-licensing company says it owns the interactive web

Suit demands royalty payments, targets Google, Yahoo! and others

There’s a showdown in Texas that could significantly impact the web as we know it.

Way back in 1993, University of California researchers claim they invented and patented “the interactive web”—namely, websites with interactive features, such as rotating pictures or streaming video. One of those researchers, Michael Doyle, now owns a patent-licensing company, Eolas Technologies.

In October 2009, Eolas filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas against more than 20 big companies for infringing its patent. Doyle claims Eolas is entitled to more than $600 million in royalty payments from the companies’ interactive websites. Although many of the companies have already settled, eight companies—Amazon, CDW Corp., GoDaddy, Google, JC Penney, Staples, Yahoo! and YouTube—have not. The companies claim Eolas shouldn’t receive royalty payments for their sites because another inventor had created a browser called Viola that was the first to offer interactive features.

Tuesday’s court proceedings featured a historic testimony from Tim Berners-Lee, who is considered one of the inventors of the web. According to the Wall Street Journal, Berners-Lee described Viola as “an important part of the development of the web.” Attorneys also presented evidence showing Viola’s interactive functions that existed before Eolas’ patent claim.

Additionally, Berners-Lee offered insight into the early days of the web. He noted that Viola was available online for free, and that back then, the web community wasn’t focused on patents or money. He expressed “concerns about the software patent system in the U.S., and [Eolas’ patent] is key in raising those concerns.”

A jury could decide this week whether Eolas’ patent is valid.

Read Wired for more about the case.

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