8.5 Update on patents

In May 2003 eBay were ordered by a judge to pay $29.5 million in damages for infringing two patents held by MercExchange. Their infringing ‘buy it now’ fixed price feature also had to be removed from their website. The case was appealed and heard by the US Supreme Court in 2006, which ruled against MercExchange's request to issue an injunction preventing eBay using, for example, the electronic button at the heart of part of the dispute. It went back to a lower court which also refused the injunction in July 2007.

More importantly, from a web architecture perspective, in July 2003 Microsoft were ordered to pay Eolas Technologies and the University of California $520 million for patent infringement related to the use of plug-in programs that allow websites to have fancy features like animations. James Grimmelmann at Yale University's Lawmeme has an amusing perspective on this. An Appeal Court effectively ordered a retrial of the case in March 2005. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the courts (including the US Supreme Court in 2007) and the patent office, the companies eventually settled out of court in August 2007. Confidentiality agreements kept the details under wraps and the long-term fallout from the case remains difficult to determine with any degree of confidence.

8.4 The content layer

8.6 Update on Microsoft