In a case that has been widely publicized, a Texas jury has invalidated claims of two patents that cover much of today’s World Wide Web. I won’t duplicate the detailed treatment that others have already provided, but this case deserves attention for a lot of reasons.
What are they? Well, to start, Texas judges and juries have a reputation of being friendly to patent owners, including so-called “non-practicing entities” such as Eolas. Not so much this time. Moreover, the patent claims at issue, which essentially cover displaying and interacting with images in a browser, truly are quite broad. Eolas hasn’t been afraid to litigate, and a lot of companies you’ve heard of had paid Eolas a lot of money to license their patents. The huge verdict in Eolas’ favor from an Illinois court, and Eolas’ subsequent settlement with Microsoft, even after the verdict was (sort of) overturned on appeal, made Eolas something of a juggernaut. As you can see here, here, here, and from the vitriol here, a lot of people are happy to see Eolas get a comeuppance.
Yet patent foes should not celebrate too quickly. Defendants (here including Google, Amazon, and Yahoo) willing to make a gigantic roll of the dice, and with the resources to search every corner of the earth for evidence of invalidity, don’t come along every day. Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, is not available to testify in every Internet patent case. When you think about it, the rarity of verdicts like the one last week, which Eolas will almost certainly appeal, really illustrates the potent lever held by patent owners, and the huge practical difficulties in mounting an effective defense against claims of patent infringement.