World Wide Web Consortium Presents US Patent Office with Evidence Invalidating Eolas Patent

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W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee urges USPTO Director to review prior art, take action -- 29 October 2003 -- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the global standard-setting body for the Web, has presented the United States Patent and Trademark Office with prior art establishing that US Patent No. 5,838,906 (the '906 patent) is invalid and should therefore be re-examined in order to eliminate this unjustified impediment to the operation of the Web. The W3C is urging US Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property James E. Rogan to initiate a re-examination of the patent because the critical prior art was neither considered at the time the patent was initially examined and granted, nor during recent patent infringement litigation.

In an unprecedented step, Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the Web, sent a letter today to Under Secretary Rogan requesting that his office reinvestigate the matter. "W3C urges the USPTO to initiate a reexamination of the '906 patent in order to prevent substantial economic and technical damage to the operation of World Wide Web," stated Berners-Lee. "The impact of this patent will be felt not only by those who are alleged to directly infringe, but all whose web pages and application rely on the stable, standards-based operation of browsers threatened by this patent. In many cases, those who will be forced to incur the cost of modifying Web pages or software applications do not even themselves infringe the patent - assuming it is even valid."

The decision to contact the USPTO directly was made by W3C's HTML Patent Advisory Group.

The '906 Patent Affects Broad Range of Web Functionality

The object embedding technology has been part of the HTML standard since the early days of the Web. This feature, supposedly covered by the '906 patent, provides critical flexibility to Web browsers, and giving users seamless access to important features that extend the browsers' capabilities. Nearly every Web user today relies on plug-in applications that add services such as streaming audio and video, advanced graphics and a variety of special purpose tools.

Changes forced by the '906 patent will also have a permanent impact on millions of historically important Web pages. In many cases, these pages contain non-commercial content or older material that is not generating revenue. As a result, there is no way to cover the cost of modifying those pages to bring them into compliance with whatever changes are made in response to the '906 patent.

The '906 Patent has disruptive impact on established Web standards

If the '906 patent remains in force, Web page authors who have followed Web standards for embedding objects will face a need for additional work, as browsers are re-engineered to avoid the patented features. Even though page authors haven't violated the patent, they will still bear the cost of rewriting Web pages or software applications, as browsers will no longer be able to perform in the manner they once did.

Critical, Previously Unreviewed Prior Art points to Invalidity of '906

The sole difference between the Web browser described in the '906 patent and typical browsers that the patent itself acknowledges as prior art, is that, with prior art browsers, the content is displayed in a new window, whereas, with the '906 browser, the content is displayed in the same window as the rest of the Web page. But that feature (i.e., displaying, or embedding, content generated by an external program in the same window as the rest of a Web page) was already described in the prior art filing submitted by W3C.

Commissioner should act given huge costs to the Web and prior art not considered during the initial patent examination

The '906 patent will cause cascades of incompatibility to ripple through the Web. Yet, it's not too late to remedy this problem. The material W3C presented in its Section 301 filing clearly establishes that the '906 patent is invalid. W3C believes that the Commissioner of the Patent and Trademark Office can and should order a re-examination of the '906 patent.

About the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]

W3C -- an international organization made up of nearly 400 Members from industry, academe, users' organizations and public policy experts -- is responsible for setting the core technical standards for the World Wide Web. Since its launch by Tim Berners-Lee, Web inventor, in 1994, W3C has led the development of Web standards and, with these standards, established the basic architecture for the World Wide Web. W3C has produced nearly 60 technical Recommendations ranging from the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and the Extensible Markup Language (XML) to digital signatures, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), guidelines for Web accessibility, and the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P). It is jointly run by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France and Keio University in Japan. For more information see


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