Microsoft plans to change the way its Internet Explorer (IE) browser handles websites with interactive content, in a bid to sidestep patents held by Eolas Technologies, a company spokesman confirmed late Friday.

Starting in January, Microsoft will distribute new code as part of the regular updates and bug fixes for IE will change the way the browser works with sites using ActiveX controls, said Jack Evans, a Microsoft spokesman. The Redmond, Washington, company has also informed its network of developers and partners of the changes, which Evans characterised as minor.

ActiveX controls allow some surfers to access pages that have animated content, such as movies or music, built directly into the page.

The changes come as Microsoft and Eolas continue their legal dispute over who owns technology that allows interactive content to be embedded into websites. Earlier this year, a judge tossed out a $520 million judgment in favour of Eolas but ruled that Microsoft did infringe on Eolas' patents for embedded content. The case was sent back to a lower court for a new trial.

That trial is expected to begin sometime in 2006, but the changes to IE will ensure the software doesn't infringe on Eolas' patents, Evans said. Microsoft has argued that Eolas' patent is invalid, but the US Patent and Trademark Office recently upheld the patent.

Developers are expected to incorporate the changes into their webpages fairly quickly, Evans said. Most users will probably not notice the changes, except that they might have to click twice to access the embedded content, rather than having that content load automatically as the page loads, he said.

Patches for the current version of IE will be distributed in January, and new copies of Windows 2000 and Windows XP will ship with the changes starting in the early part of the year, Evans said. The changes will also be present in Windows Vista and Internet Explorer version 7, he said.