There was a battle taking place in the city of Tyler, Texas that had 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.
According to reports on USENET newsgroups, Chicago biologist and plaintiff Michael Doyle claimed 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.
In a US federal court ruling in Texas an eight-man jury rejected Eolas’ claimed ownership of the technology ruling that the company’s patents were invalid, according to USENET reports. Eolas’ opponents had claimed the company’s patents were falsely based on existing inventions”.
Many of the companies Eolas had sued had settled the dispute out of court, including Apple and eBay, whilst the technology firm had previously won $565 million in settling a patent dispute with Microsoft.
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 defence teams presented the jury with evidence from web pioneers. These included Dave Raggett, creator of the <embed> tag, and Pei-Yuan Wei, who created the Viola browser and who, with Scott Silvey, in 1993 demonstrated a program called V-Plot which rotated an image of a plane within Wei’s browser. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, also testified at trial on the importance of Wei’s work with the Viola browser and discussions in 1991 about embedding Viola objects in HTML files. Berners-Lee told the court “It was ahead of its time. The things Pei was doing would later be done in Java”. Eolas filed their patent in 1994. It appears that the testimony of the pioneers of the web was influential in the jury’s decision.