W3C Holds Ad Hoc Meeting on Recent Court Decision, Launches Public Discussion List

By now, most of those reading this know of the recent court case of Eolas v. Microsoft in regards to US Patent 5,838,906. The patent claims to cover mechanisms for embedding objects within distributed hypermedia documents, where at least some of the object's data is located external to the document, and there is a control path to the object's implementation to support user interaction with the object. The implementation can be local or distributed across a network, and is automatically invoked based upon type information in the document or associated with the object's data. See the patent claims for details and for the precise scope of the patent. This patent may potentially have implications for the World Wide Web in general, including specifications from W3C.

In the near term, Microsoft has indicated to W3C that they will very soon be making changes to its Internet Explorer browser software in response to this ruling. These changes may affect a large number of existing Web pages. W3C does not yet have any indication of what action, if any, other vendors of Web tools might take. In the longer term, should the court decision be upheld in its current form, some participants suggested that other action might be required. W3C has made efforts to contact the patent holder to determine their future intentions, but has not received any reply.

W3C believes that it is important for the Web community to begin now to consider and contribute to the range of technical options available.

As a result, W3C invited its Members as well as other key commercial and open source software interests to attend an ad hoc meeting, hosted by Macromedia, on Tuesday 19 August in San Francisco, California. The objective of the meeting was to begin to evaluate potential near-term changes that might be implemented in browsers, authoring tools, and Web sites as a result of the court case.

There was widespread agreement that a solution that minimizes the effects of changes to Web software, Web sites and the user experience was needed. Microsoft presented several options that it has under consideration, and benefited from constructive discussion of these options. In addition, the meeting participants strongly supported clear communication on this matter, including establishing a developer Web site and mailing list to coordinate approaches for changes to Web sites and software, and providing early releases of software and documentation. Further details on these will be forthcoming.

To enable the Web community to consider and contribute to the technical options, W3C has created a mailing list for public discussion on this subject, public-web-plugins@w3.org. W3C is preparing a FAQ for public distribution, and has already initiated consideration of longer-term, standards-based solutions.

Please note that W3C has not completed any formal analysis of the patent in question or the impact of the federal court opinion. W3C is not providing any legal advice to our Members or the public on the direct impact of recent developments, nor are we, by holding the meeting this past week, intending any implication about validity or applicability of the patent. Those implementing technologies in this arena will have to seek their own legal counsel on particular implementations of W3C Recommendations.

W3C will continue to coordinate with the Web software vendors and organizations, and keep our Members and the public informed as these efforts progress.

Steven R Bratt, Chief Operating Officer
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
Last updated: $Date: 2003/08/27 18:32:09 $