Are You Violating the Eolas Ajax Patent?

Tweet

Eolas AJAX patentIs your website using Ajax? Are you calling a server process from a client-side application? If so, prepare yourself for a visit from Eolas’ lawyers. The company filed a US patent in 2002 and they are actively progressing infringement cases against a long list of companies including Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Pepsi, Go Daddy, Google, JC Penney, JP Morgan Chase, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Playboy Enterprises, Staples, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments, Yahoo, and YouTube.

A Brief History of Ajax

Ajax is a conceptual technique. The technologies have been available for over 10 years, but Ajax adoption became widespread after Jesse James Garrett’s article in February 2005 which described the techniques and provided a great acronym: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

Despite its name, Ajax does not necessarily depend on asynchronous calls, JavaScript or XML. Today, Ajax is a useful term applied to any system that communicates with a back-end web server to update content without requiring a full web page refresh (although many marketing departments confusingly refer to Ajax when describing any type of animation or interactivity!)

Most Ajax systems utilize the XMLHttpRequest object which permits programmatic server communication. It was introduced by Microsoft in March 1999 when Internet Explorer 5.0 was released. The original implementation was an ActiveX object devised specifically for the Outlook Web Access system. Most browser vendors followed Microsoft’s lead and implemented XMLHttpRequest as a native browser object.

Many of the dynamic web applications we rely on today would not be possible without Ajax techniques.

Does Eolas Have a Valid Ajax Patent?

Eolas Technologies is the company that fought Microsoft over the use of embedded browser applets, such as Flash. Eolas won that case and were awarded over $500 million in 2003. For several years, IE had to show a ridiculous alert box whenever an embedded object was encountered in the HTML.

Eolas 7,599,985 is a continuation of the original patent and has the snappy title “Distributed hypermedia method and system for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document”. It was filed on 9 August 2002 and describes Ajax-like systems. Here’s an excerpt:

A system allowing user of a browser program on a computer connected to an open distributed hypermedia [web page] to access and execute an embedded programming object. The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects.

The user may select the program object from the screen. Once selected the program executes on the user’s (client’s) computer or may execute on a remote server or additional remote computers in a distributed processing arrangement.

After launching the program object, the user is able to interact with the object as the invention provides for ongoing interprocess communication between the application object (program) and the browser program.

The present invention allows a user at a client computer connected to a network to locate, retrieve, and manipulate objects in an interactive way. The invention not only allows the user to use a hypermedia format to locate and retrieve program objects, but also allows the user to interact with an application program located at a remote computer.

Interprocess communication between the hypermedia browser and the embedded application program is ongoing after the program object has been launched. The use is able to use a vast amount of computing power beyond that which is contained in the user’s client computer.

To most developers, the Eolas claim is absurd:

  • Ajax is a programming technique — not a technology.
  • Eolas did not define the name ‘Ajax’ or provide technical implementation details.
  • Ajax technologies and techniques existed before the patent was filed. Microsoft’s first implementation of XMLHttpRequest was developed 40 months before the Eolas patent was filed, although it took several years for developers to realize its power. Prior to XMLHttpRequest, on-page server communication was still achieved using more rudimentary techniques such as IFrames or dynamic script injections.
  • Ajax has been adopted by millions of websites — can Eolas file lawsuits against them all?
  • The patent is vague and could be applied to a wide range of web page interactions.

However, it has been ruled as valid by the US Patent Office on three separate occasions. If Eolas win their infringement case, there is nothing to stop them taking out a lawsuit against … everyone.

Will Common Sense Prevail?

Who knows what will happen once the lawyers become involved.

I’m no legal expert, but it appears that Eolas have filed a US patent — which does not necessarily apply worldwide. Could we see a situation where US companies hand their web development and hosting to offshore providers to avoid a lawsuit? If that’s the case, perhaps Eolas should consider their impact on the US economy?

Does Eolas have a valid Ajax patent? Is this another good reason to abolish software patents? Read the Eolas Lawsuit press release and decide for yourself.

Free JavaScript: Novice to Ninja Sample

Get a free 32-page chapter of JavaScript: Novice to Ninja

  • markfiend

    Is this another good reason to abolish software patents?

    Nail meet head.

  • nedlud
  • nachenko

    After reading the text carefully, I think I understand EOLAS patent text:

    “When user clicks on something, something happens there and/or somewhere else. When user’s computer does something, something happens there and/or somewhere else. When something happens, something happens somewhere.”

    Only a lawyer could defend something like this.

  • Jon Sidnell

    Reminds me of when British Telecom tried to claim that they had a conceptual patent on hyperlinks. Really hope common sense prevails, or that it is at least limited to the US. Being a UK developer, I don’t mind doing outsourced work ;)

  • NetNerd85

    Patents should not exist at all, no one has the right to profit from having a thought.

  • Paul

    Eolas, are very innovative – in their use of Law and abuse of good will.
    Unless they have their eyes and ears closed, they would undoubtably have been aware when these techniques started to become mainstream, with a small number of companies. This is the point where they should have put their hand up and said are you aware that I have a patient on this and then work it out. But rather than that, they seem to wait until their “stolen innovations” are ubiquitous, before they release the hounds.
    Without the good will and generosity of true innovators Eolas wouldn’t have a platform to work on.

  • Alistair McIntyre

    I don’t think they’re going to be able to file lawsuits against everyone, and I reckon the bigger ones aren’t going to go well for Eolas.
    And like you said, MILLIONS of websites, basically – what we’re looking at here is quite simple, Patents on Software and Programming TECHNIQUES like ajax need to be removed. I have no problem when someone patents something like.. hydrogen fuel cells, but when its something with no real tangibility, there are alot of questions to ask, also

    “When user clicks on something, something happens there and/or somewhere else. When user’s computer does something, something happens there and/or somewhere else. When something happens, something happens somewhere.”

    All I can say is that that makes NO sense whatsoever.

  • http://amitgupta.in/ amit

    This company just looks like a patent troll. I wonder if they even do any research or make anything besides filing for stupid patents & then living off them!! Isn’t it another case of lack of insight at US Patent Office which seem to just hand out vague & absurd patents without giving it a thought? :(

    Last year I read that Apple has filed for patent on gestures on mobile phones & also on copy-paste on a mobile phone – both of which are totally absurd & not Apple’s innovations!!

  • Amit JAin

    LOL , this is seriously hilarious. Patent system needs to be upgraded. the system that haults innovation should not be allowed. Now AJAX is growing trend & has transformed the web technologies to a whole new level.

    No Idea If there is option that allows to over-ride patent in general public interest

    Amit Jain
    MakeYourSoftware.com

  • MetalHippy

    Oh dear..

    Just in case they make this stick I am going to patent the for loop in a rather ambiguos way and then start legal proceedings against anyone who has ever used a technique that could posibly be similar to the ambiguous one I patented. I’m goaane be rich fellas :)

    Ooops I have just given them an idea :)

  • Michael Houghton

    This is fairly depressing, isn’t it. You’re right about the alternative technologies that meet the Eolas patent description.

    Way back in 1997 I was part of the team who built Eagle Star Direct’s online motor insurance quotation-and-purchase system, and we pioneered a technique of using a frameset backing store and local static page refreshing to redraw a page based on data retrieved in a hidden frame (we called it the comms frame) from the server as JS arrays, with an asynchronous notification.

    This system built up the details for a quote in the browser ‘client’ with separate AJAX-like lookups for car make/model and postcodes, then submitted a final complete data set to a quoting engine, achieving (almost) everything that a modern client-side application does via AJAX, with technology that worked in IE3 on Windows 3.11. The result was a system that could (and did) cope with many hundreds of simultaneous sessions on the modest network and server hardware of the time.

    I believe it was the first use of such technology in a commercial website, but even then the idea seemed particularly obvious to me – who knows where I’d seen it first?

  • Atomworks

    This is just stupid. I hope they’ve bitten off more then can chew taking on such a broad range of top companies and get counter sued into oblivion. Eolas should be looking for real investment to put into their so-called R and D.

    The patent system shouldn’t allow for such a blatant stifling of progress in web technologies. I’m all for patents and protection of intellectual property, but like the music industry the whole game is changing and patent laws need to evolve. This patent isn’t anything more then a concept and concepts you shouldn’t be able to be patent.

    And by the sounds of it Eolas have been making the IE team look bad when to my surprise it doesn’t sound like a lot of things were there fault! (Also, for a company that fronts like they are pioneers of web tech, their website is a bit s**te! )

  • Ton van Lankveld

    “A system allowing user of a browser program on a computer connected to an open distributed hypermedia [web page] to access and execute an embedded programming object. The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects.”

    So, if the programming object (Javascript) is not embedded in the hypermedia (HTML), it’s not a violation of the patent? If this is true, an external JS file would do the trick.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    This case also makes me wonder about their previous encounter with Microsoft. At the time, MS were in court every day defending anti-competitive business practices.

    By comparison, the Eolas lawsuit was a fairly mundane and minor affair. Many people (well, me at least) assumed Eolas were a technology partner who MS had wronged in some way. Few people questioned the case because it was Microsoft in the dock.

  • PCSpectra

    I’m not against patents in general (ie: LZW compression) but rediculous business processes (NetFlix) or techniques (ie: AJAX). Come on, who givesw these patents the green lights?

    Honestly though, I find AJAX over used anyways. FaceBook constantly spits some error message at me and I swear rendering time is increased each time I click “show latest 200″ items as JS is left to assemble and browser is left to render.

    When I disable JS and web sites still run smoothly in a paginated logical manner, the browsing experience is much improved, IMHO.

    Cheers,
    Alex

  • stacye

    I’m curious, would this patent also apply to web applications built with Flex?

  • mwistrand

    “Many people (well, me at least) assumed Eolas were a technology partner who MS had wronged in some way. Few people questioned the case because it was Microsoft in the dock.”

    I’m with Craig on this one. I wonder if we (well, “we”) shot ourselves in the foot by demonizing Microsoft earlier. The door seems to have been opened for plagiarism in the form of a patent. Perhaps in the future, companies developing new techniques or technologies should patent them with the explicit purpose of making them free to use for everyone.

    Alongside everyone else, I also hope that “common sense” prevails, and the courts realize that this patent, filed over three years AFTER the first implementation of XMLHttpRequest, is essentially a form of plagiarism.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @stacye

    I’m curious, would this patent also apply to web pplications built with Flex?

    It’ll apply to any web page object that can call a remote server and show information without a full page refresh. That certainly includes Flash and Silverlight technologies.

  • shine

    So what does your browsing experience have to do with a company trying to get money off of websites using AJAX technologies?

  • stacye

    Thank you Craig. I wonder if it’s too late to move to Tyler in hopes to be picked as a juror :)

    If anyone needs me, I’ll be over there in the corner weeping for the future of our internets.

  • Laker Netman

    Perhaps the folks at Eolas Tech should talk to someone at Unisys… ask them about a little thing called GIF format. That worked out real well for Unisys :)

    Laker

    BTW, I’m going to file a patent for “breathing” and start collecting royalties from everyone, including retroactive amounts for the last 20,000 (?) years.

  • SpacePhoenix

    Is it all javascript that could be involved or just scripts using XMLHttpRequest (would that also make many Greasemonkey scripts illegal)?

  • http://jedicharles.com JediCharles

    It seems to me that Eolas creates patents with the intention of suing large corporations for infringement as a revenue stream. Take a look at their list of technologies on their website: http://www.eolas.com/technologies.html You will be able to predict future lawsuits just by reading their descriptions.

  • http://www.heyraena.com raena

    Many people (well, me at least) assumed Eolas were a technology partner who MS had wronged in some way. Few people questioned the case because it was Microsoft in the dock.

    Well I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember a good amount of hue and cry over this, including right here at SitePoint.

  • James Baugh

    The patent involves the embed tag not using AJAX. From the press release “The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects”. Note that it is because Adobe and others embed their programs in the browser that they are getting sued.

    If it was referring to the use of AJAX then the makers of the broswers (IE, Firefox, etc…) would be getting sued.

    It is still a bit silly, but I don’t believe using AJAX will get you sued.

  • Anonymous

    When I read the “Mission” bullshit in “About Us” section in Eolas’ site, I just can’t stop laughing. Looks like they are desperate for cash, else they won’t sue the world for this “thing”. Sad isn’t… This company is disease for the web.

  • Amtiskaw

    Good! The more patent trolls like this go after big companies, with big lobbying power, the more likely it is that they’ll use their influence to get legislation passed limiting software patents, and that’ll be a good outcome for everyone (except Eolas).

  • http://www.arwebdesign.net samanime

    You know, typically I despise big-business-lobbying-for-their-own-good, though if they ended up on lobbying to limit software patents it would be great. I don’t think they should be completely abolished, but I think that to patent something software, it has to be a very narrow thing, not this big broad sweeping patents that could be interpreted in 8,234,323 ways, so they can sue whoever they pick out of the phone book.

    Only problem is that some of these big companies also have patents long similar lines, so… =/

  • http://www.sky-web.net/ Dr John

    Would this interaction include a PHP script talking to a database? If so, all database driven web sites are targets for being sued as well.

  • stacye

    @Dr John

    I wouldn’t think so because in a PHP script the “programming object” is not used by the user, but by the server.

  • SpacePhoenix

    #

    Many people (well, me at least) assumed Eolas were a technology partner who MS had wronged in some way. Few people questioned the case because it was Microsoft in the dock.

    Well I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember a good amount of hue and cry over this, including right here at SitePoint.
    raenaAvatar
    November 6th, 2009 at 9:53 am
    #

    The patent involves the embed tag not using AJAX. From the press release “The program object is embedded into a hypermedia document much like data objects”. Note that it is because Adobe and others embed their programs in the browser that they are getting sued.

    If it was referring to the use of AJAX then the makers of the broswers (IE, Firefox, etc…) would be getting sued.

    It is still a bit silly, but I don’t believe using AJAX will get you sued.

    So whether the AJAX code is embedded in the page or as an external file it will not fall foul of the patent?

  • Socrates

    First step – kill all the lawyers.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @James The maker of the browser (Microsoft) was already sued and lost.

  • USPatriot

    Bring the corporate-thug lawyers after the developers. I will lay the pimp hand of justice upon them. Damn American justice system, let killers go free (O.J.) and give Jaywalkers $200 tickets. It’s time to overhul the system, I’ve had enough of ambulance-chasers and sue-happy crooks. Never thought I would agree with Craig on an issue.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @James
    The cases are subtly different. Microsoft supposedly breached the first Eolas patent by providing a way to embed objects in a browser.

    The second patent covers client-side objects communicating with a server and updating the page view. Although the browser vendors, Adobe and MS supply technology to make that possible, it’s up to the website developer to build a system that breaches the patent.

    For example, say I patented an electronic back scratcher. I couldn’t sue battery manufacturers or electricity providers for someone else infringing my patent. (Actually, given the stupidity of the Eolas case, I probably could!)

  • adimauro

    Have you seen the ‘Research’ section of their page? They have a product called ‘Fios’! So, what’s next, a lawsuit against Verizon?

    I wonder if we (well, “we”) shot ourselves in the foot by demonizing Microsoft earlier.

    See: Microsoft Hatred is a Disease, by Linus Torvalds

  • http://www.arwebdesign.net samanime

    This has got me a bit worried. I know the odds of them winning are extremely slim, but on the off-chance they did win the precedent would have extremely far reaching impacts on everything computer.

    Let’s just hope that all of the lawyers from everywhere team up and mop the floor with them.

  • Anonymous

    So let me get this straight the companies patent is on an idea, rather than a specific written set of programming protocols.

    I mean this is just crazy. Does it mean I can now have a patent like this: “A pill or mediaction that will act as a cure or prevention for the common cold”, does this now entitle me to the rights of any medication to cure a cold?

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Well this does sound a bit retarded. There must be enough evidence of prior art in all of the MSDN articles about how to use the XMLHttpRequest object several years before this patent was born. I was one of the guys considering using the XMLHttpRequest object and DHTML around 1999/2000 but didn’t because it only worked in IE and I couldn’t replicate it in other browsers.

  • http://www.2upmedia.com 2upmedia

    Hmm… I wonder if it’s possible that the owner’s of the millions of AJAX-ified web sites and applications could file a class action lawsuit against Eolas. This is akin to people buying domains before a company purchases them and then charging a ridiculous amount. It’s just not fair.

  • Amenthes

    I hate these Eolas guys! I really hate them. Just look at their logo tagline… “invented here”.

    I wish you happy bankruptcy Eolas.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @2upmedia What would be the law this class action suit would claim? And what would be the damages to the class that Eolas has caused? Have you personally lost money because of Eolas?

  • clarky_y2k

    This is absolutely ridiculous! Anyway, I don’t fancy their changes much against Microsoft in the court-room.
    I never thought I’d say this, but I hope that Microsoft wipe the floor with them! Don’t worry, though: if it comes to the worst, Bill Gates will just have to buy them out*!

    ;)

  • http://www.2upmedia.com 2upmedia

    @Amenthes If they win this case, that would unjustly affect us web developers that provide AJAX-ified web applications/sites/widgets as part of our services especially if that’s our bread-and-butter. That could amount to thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @2upmedia If they won the case, it’s not unjust, it’s YOU the developer that is infringing THEIR exclusive rights to use the patented technology. YOU are damaging THEIR business by making money selling THEIR patented technology to your clients.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    @2upmedia If they won the case, it’s not unjust, it’s YOU the developer that is infringing THEIR exclusive rights to use the patented technology. YOU are damaging THEIR business by making money selling THEIR patented technology to your clients.

    Really Dan? Are you serious or just being glib?

    Obviously if they were to win it would be a miscarriage of justice because most of us who were doing web before the Eolas patent had at least tried out examples that MSDN provided to update content in the browser from a remote source which has now matured to a technology/technique we know as AJAX.

    With that in mind I don’t see Eolas as being a victim of anything. More likely they are patent trolls looking to score big.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    @awasson I don’t believe they have a patent that covers AJAX. But 2upmedia was suggesting we sue Eolas. We can’t do that as they haven’t damaged us. If they win, it validates that we are the ones damaging Eolas. If they lose, then we have no damages to sue for as they’re not unlawfully harming us (who have not been sued) in any way.

  • http://www.heyraena.com raena

    @Dan, the abstract’s patent is certainly non-specific enough about “embedded program objects” that it could relate quite easily.

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Actually Dan, I doubt a group of developers could launch a successful class action suit against Eolas based on their recent saber rattling but even if it were to happen and if they were decided in favor of Eolas it would in no way validate that developers are the ones damaging Eolas. It just means that they were found not to be harming the developers. Legal precedent does not apply in this way.

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    So let me get this straight the companies patent is on an idea, rather than a specific written set of programming protocols. I mean this is just crazy. Does it mean I can now have a patent like this: “A pill or mediaction that will act as a cure or prevention for the common cold”, does this now entitle me to the rights of any medication to cure a cold?

    Inventions are patentable. So are drugs. Name brand drugs that don’t have a generic version don’t have a generic version because the drug is protected by a patent that hasn’t expired yet. If one of the drug companies invented a pill that cures the common cold, the USPTO would grant the inventor a patent and exactly as you said, the inventor alone would have the right to manufacture that medication.

  • stacye

    @Dan: You are correct, inventions and drugs are patentable. I don’t think your explanation works for the analogy.

    An active ingredient or formula can be patented for a drug. So, if I make a concoction that beats the common cold, and the active ingredient is Diphenhydeamine, then I can patent my formula as working against the common cold. But I have to include the formula, or at the very least, the active ingredient.

    But I can not patent a general idea like “My invention is a pill which cures the common cold, ” and then give no information on my pill what-so-ever.

    Eolas has just presented the idea of XMLHttpRequest, they did not actually invent it (or reference it by name), nor did they provide any specification of it in their patent, only a simple drawing. That would be equal to me drawing a pill and saying “Look, this pill will cure the common cold.”

  • http://jedicharles.com JediCharles

    Dan is being a regular troll, just ignore it.

  • http://art4eye.com -T-

    hmm, by that patent text they also have a patent on java applets in a web page.

    I wonder how that will stand up on court…

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    hmm, by that patent text they also have a patent on java applets in a web page.

    I wonder how that will stand up on court…

    Well that’s where I expect their patent would fall to pieces. As I recall, I first read about embedding Java applets into web pages in VB Developer’s Journal more that 15 years ago in an Editorial.

  • adimauro

    I wonder how that will stand up on court…

    The problem is that judges/patent workes are not developers. As the article states, their patent HAS stood up three times thus far in the US patent office. So, unfortunately, it’s just like politicians making decisions on science they have no clue about, what do any of these people know about AJAX?

  • jeremiah

    If they do win, I have other ways of dealing with people like this. It’s called: “My boot their ass”.

  • Siv

    “Something click and something changes.” PATENT APPROVED.

    Eolas with this you can sue people who use IFRAMES too! I click on a hyperlink on the right and the ‘invention’ magically loads content on the main page without modifying other parts!

  • datBlahGuy

    @-T- and awasson

    That’s correct. The applet world is where this will die… Heck I have applets in my collections older than their patent.

    ~~reminiscing rippling water~~

  • Shady

    What about the prior art defence? I’m sure that, even as far back as 2002, there were already a bazillion pages out there using DHTML / iframe / AJAXy techniques.

    I myself coded an online reporting system that used AJAX (via hidden frames) in Autumn 2001 (I know that seems fairly specific, but it was the first big task I had after taking my first job out of university)

  • http://www.redfishbluefishdesign.com jeffvdovjak

    I’m going to get a patent for any sounds that come out of the human mouth and provide meaning to another person (be it noun, verb, adverb, adjective, ect). So you guys only have a few days to continue communicating out loud. After that I’ll expect royalties. Afterall, it has yet to be pattented.