Microsoft recently released update 912945 to Internet Explorer. Curiously it is offered as a ‘non-security update’ in the “Optional software updates” category on Windows Update. Although there is no mention of this in any Microsoft documents that I could find, this update is in response to Microsoft's setbacks in the long-running EOLAS patent case. EOLAS, a spin-off of UC Berkeley, was issued US Patent 5,838,906 for DISTRIBUTED HYPERMEDIA METHOD FOR AUTOMATICALLY INVOKING EXTERNAL APPLICATION PROVIDING INTERACTION AND DISPLAY OF EMBEDDED OBJECTS WITHIN A HYPERMEDIA DOCUMENT, which they claim is infringed by ActiveX. After years of litigation, and an impassioned letter from Tim Berners-Lee, the US Patent and Trademark Office agreed. (See the docket report, especially the Notice of Intent to Issue a Reexam Certificate.) The deciding issue was that although there was plenty of prior art that embedded graphics in a document, none of the materials submitted in the case showed dynamic, interactive embedded content, at least not without requiring the user to click first.
One interesting sidelight is that the PTO rejected the argument that Viola was prior art on the grounds that it's embedded applications were implemented in an interpreted language, a distinction that may have lost its importance in recent years.
- When a user encounters an ActiveX object, such as a Flash movie, he/she first sees an annoying text box admonishing the user to click first.
- To avoid inflicting this text box on their users, developers need to change the way they embed the ActiveX control. Instead of doing it inline with an EMBED tag, they need to use JScript to invoke a separate file the uses the DOM to embed the object,
The net result is that developers have to go to a lot of work, users will encounter a lot of annoyance, lawyers collected lots of fees, and otherwise nothing has changed. You would think EOLAS and Microsoft would have settled for a much smaller number and walked away happy, but we will never know.