Many of you may already be aware of the Eolas Technologies lawsuit against Microsoft for patent infringement as reported on News.com. It is perhaps the only time the general web community hasn't been rooting for the little guy to win out over Microsoft. For those who don't know, the short short on it is that Eolas has claimed that the concept of plug-ins, a patent owned by the University of California, and licensed exclusively to Eolas, has been infringed by the very ability of Internet Explorer to play plug-ins inline with browser content.
Ultimately, this means that running Flash movies, or other plug-ins, alongside web page content (Flash art on HTML pages, for example) is a violation and that developers need to find another way to do it — whether by invoking dialogs when a plug-in is about to launch or by opening alternative content in new application windows. The implications of this are big. So much so, that the W3C has weighed in and formed an advisory panel (the HTML Patent Advisory Group) and released a FAQ on how the patent may impact the web.
On Tuesday, Microsoft said that it will make adjustments to Internet Explorer by early 2004 to prevent it from infringing on the patent. For now, the changes will consist of the browser firing a dialog box before allowing the embedded plug-in to run. Microsoft, Apple, Macromedia, and Real Networks have all provided information to developers to allow them to avoid infringing on the Eolas patent. Sadly, most of these fixes require extensive use of client-side script and invalid HTML tags in order to work. Zeldman goes into detail on the validation and accessibility issues on his site, and has a number of links to examples and some thoughts on how this will pan out over the next few months.
Some links to the software makers on the hook:
- The Microsoft Developer Network site provides instructions for developers, as well as follow-up information on the changes to the handling of ActiveX controls by IE.
- Apple's Developer Connection offers suggestions and sample pages with QuickTime movies.
- Macromedia's Developer Center offers a number of FAQs and suggestions for developers. As Macromedia may stand the most to lose, they offer a number of pages devoted to the potential impact.
- RealNetworks also offers sample code and suggestions to work around the changes to Internet Explorer and the patent.