Microsoft modifying IE to get around Eolas patent

Microsoft is changing the way its Internet Explorer browser handles embedded content in Web pages.

Microsoft plans to change the way its Internet Explorer (IE) browser handles Web pages with interactive content, in part to sidestep patents held by Eolas Technologies, according to a company spokesperson.

Starting in January, Microsoft would distribute new code as part of the regular updates and bug fixes familiar to IE users that would change the way IE works with sites using ActiveX controls, a Microsoft spokesman, Jack Evans, said.

The company has also informed its network of developers and partners of the changes, which Evans characterised as minor.

ActiveX controls allow Web surfers to access pages that have animated content, such as movies or music, built directly into the page.

The changes come as Microsoft and Eolas are in the middle of a closely watched legal dispute over who owns technology that allows interactive content to be embedded into a website. Earlier this year, a judge tossed out a $US520 million judgment in favor of Eolas but ruled that Microsoft did infringe on Eolas' patents for embedded content. The case was sent back to a lower court for a new trial.

That trial was expected to begin sometime in 2006, but the changes to IE would ensure the software doesn't infringe on Eolas' patents, Evans said. Microsoft has argued that Eolas' patent is invalid, but the US Patent and Trademark Office recently upheld the patent.

Developers were expected to incorporate the changes into their Web pages fairly quickly, Evans said.

Most users would probably not notice the changes, except that they might have to click twice to access the embedded content, rather than having that content load automatically as the page loads, he said.

Patches for the current version of IE would be distributed in January, and new copies of Windows 2000 and Windows XP would ship with the changes starting in the early part of the year, Evans said.

The changes would also be present in Windows Vista and Internet Explorer version 7, he said.

Developers can find more information about the changes on Microsoft's Developer Web site (http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/?url=/workshop/author/dhtml/overview/activating_activex.asp).

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