Microsoft will modify IE to get around Eolas patent

Changes to the way Activex controls are handled will be distributed through online update service

Microsoft Corp. 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 Inc., a company spokesman confirmed late Friday.

Starting in January, Microsoft will distribute new code as part of the regular updates and bug fixes familiar to IE users that will change the way IE works with sites using ActiveX controls, said Jack Evans, a Microsoft spokesman. The Redmond, Washington, company has also informed its network of developers and partners of the changes, which Evans characterized 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 Web site. Earlier this year, a judge tossed out a US$520 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 is expected to begin sometime in 2006, but the changes to IE will ensure the software doesn't infringe on Eolas' patents, Evans said. Microsoft has argued that Eolas' patent is invalid, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently upheld the patent.

Developers are expected to incorporate the changes into their Web pages fairly quickly, Evans said. Most users will 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 will be distributed in January, and new copies of Windows 2000 and Windows XP will ship with the changes starting in the early part of the year, Evans said. The changes will 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 (

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.