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The Eolas Patent Decision: What it Means for Web DesignersA quiet IE update could spell big headaches for those in the trenches
The Eolas Patent Decision: What it Means for Web Designers A quiet IE update could spell big headaches for those in the trenches
I know what you're thinking: why on Earth would an article about a flippin' patent case possibly interest me, the hip-hip-happenin' designer? It may not seem like the usual fare for creative-types, but the first time you field an angry phone call from a client over "activating" embedded content like Flash or QuickTime, you'd best be prepared for how to deal with the fallout. So let's take a deep breath, collect our thoughts, and power through here. It may sound scary, but it's really not that bad once you know what to do.
The problem and its background
My pappy always said to know your limitations, and in keeping with that time-worn wisdom, I am aware that I am most certainly not a lawyer. With that as the stated case, I'm not interested in attempting to provide a blow-by-blow synopsis of why Internet Explorer is being patched. After all, we're here to deal with how IE has been patched and what can be done to make sure embedded content keeps working the way it always has. That said, however, here is a quick 'n dirty rundown of the events as they currently stand, presented here in handy, bite-sized bullet list format:
- Eolas, which claims to have created the first browser to support plugins, sues Microsoft for patent infringement over the display of embedded content (specifically, ActiveX controls) in Internet Explorer
- Eolas wins a $500+ million judgment in 2003
- Rather than pay, Microsoft plans an IE update for early 2004 to get around the patent
- The US Patent Office (USPTO) agrees to re-examine the patent after an outcry from the Web community over the validity of the patent; the IE update is put on hold
- After reviewing the case, the USPTO upholds Eolas' patent
- Microsoft appeals; the Supreme Court punts on hearing the case
- Again, rather than pay, Microsoft finally patches IE
I've left some details out, but that's the gist of it. The upshot is that last month, and with very little fanfare, Microsoft started pushing out an update to Internet Explorer (IE6 on Windows XP SP2 as well as the forthcoming IE7) that doesn't infringe upon the Eolas patent. This update makes all pages that use EMBED and/or OBJECT code (read: any page that makes use of a plug-in/ActiveX object) require a click from the user to "activate" the content, after which it will work normally. Figure 1 shows one example of what this looks like in the wild:
Well, isn't that just positively annoying. Now, in other cases, IE will throw up something a little less intrusive, but still irksome:
Here it is in a nutshell:
- Call the JS file from the HTML file
In the words of a TV ad that was making the rounds near the end of the last century, there's no step three. Of course, there are some details to work out, so allow me to break it down a bit. Let's say we're aiming to embed a QuickTime movie into a Web page. The typical code to do that would look a little like this:
<objectclassid="clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B"codebase="http://www.apple.com/qtactivex/qtplugin.cab" width="320" height="256">
<param name="src" value="test.mov" />
<param name="autoplay" value="false" />
<param name="controller" value="true" />
<embed src="test.mov" width="320" height="256" type="video/quicktime" pluginspage="http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/" autoplay="false" controller="true" />
document.write('<objectclassid="clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B" codebase="http://www.apple.com/qtactivex/qtplugin.cab" width="320" height="256">');
document.write('<param name="src" value="test.mov" />');
document.write('<param name="autoplay" value="false" />');
document.write('<param name="controller" value="true" />');
document.write('<embed src="test.mov" width="320" height="256" type="video/quicktime" pluginspage="http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/" autoplay="false" controller="true" />');
Doesn't look too different from the first version, does it? Told you it was easy. Anyway, one more step and we're done. We've got to do something about the gaping hole in the HTML file where the object/embed code used to be. So, let's go back to the spot in the HTML file where we cut out the original code, and let's put this line in its place:
Of course, the src path will need to be tweak if the test.js file isn't in the same directory as the HTML page, but you get the idea. Now, when someone looks at the HTML page using the patched version of IE6, they won't be greeted with any activation prompts. Problem solved.
Anyway, that's it in a nutshell. It's not a great situation, but it is what it is and fortunately, the workaround isn't too painful (unless you already have a bunch of live sites that need the fix, in which case it just becomes an exercise in patience). And while Eolas got the last laugh when it came to Microsoft, the company has stated that it has no plans to go after other browser makers such as the Mozilla Foundation. Regardless, this fix is browser-agnostic, so if Eolas ever decides that other browsers are, in fact, fair game, you should already have the situation covered.
Though the fame, riches, and notoriety of being a DMN contributor are both tantalizing and substantial, Kevin Schmitt still stubbornly insists on continuing his work as the Director of Interactive Services at EFX Media, a production house located just outside of Washington, D.C. Feel free to follow his updates and contact him through Twitter if you have something to share - he's ready to believe you!
Related Keywords:eolas, microsoft internet explorer, internet explorer, patent