There's a battle taking place in the city of Tyler, Texas that has Yahoo, Amazon, Google, YouTube and even the internet's father himself, Tim Berners-Lee, involved in a legal dispute over the future of the World Wide Web.
In a packed federal courthouse in downtown Tyler, the defense is fighting to denounce two software patents that threaten "the future of web innovation." The opposing side is seeking royalty payments for performing tasks like watching online video, rotating the image of a sweater online and more.
That said, if the plaintiffs are successful in the lawsuit, Yahoo, Amazon and the other companies crowded in the small courtroom will be just a handful in a long string of targets that will be forced to pay millions upon millions to use the Internet.
According to a report by Wired, Chicago biologist and plaintiff Michael Doyle claims that during their employment by the University of California in 1993, he and two co-inventors -- now called Eolas Technologies -- created and patented the "interactive web" before anyone else. He referred to a program he created at the San Francisco campus which allowed doctors to view embryos over the Internet. He claims that this was the first program that allowed users to interact with images within a browser window.
The defense contests that theory, stating that it was programs like Pei-Yuan Wei’s pioneering Viola that first offered this specific functionality.
Eolas Technologies is no stranger to patent litigation. The company sued Microsoft over patent infringement back in 1999 and won a $521 million jury verdict which was eventually overturned on appeal -- Microsoft settled out of court instead. After that, Eolas Technologies was denounced as a patent troll because the company never produced its own web browser, or launch any other commercially successful technology.
After the settlement, the W3C contacted the patent office directly with a letter signed by Berners-Lee, stating that unless the disputed patent was invalidated, it would cause the "disruption of global web standards" and cause "substantial economic and technical damage to the operation of the World Wide Web." The PTO reexamined and then rejected the patent, but then re-validated the patent again after Doyle and his lawyers insisted on a right to some kind of patent claim. This very timeline was pitched to the East Texas jury by Eolas Technologies' lawyers.
Wired reports that the trial is currently scheduled to be four back-to-back trials, the first of which will consist of a jury determining if the patents are valid or not. If they find the patents valid, then the case against the eight defendants will move to three successive infringement and damages trials. The jury may have a decision regarding the first trial before the weekend.