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August 13, 2009
Microsoft Ordered to Halt Word Shipments in 60 Days
The news that a federal court in East Texas issued a permanent injunction against Microsoft, commanding that no copy of Word 2003 or 2007 can be sold 60 days after the date of order, inspires visions of Microsoft being deprived of one of its greatest cash cows. Hold that thought for a moment. The plaintiff, in is case, i4i, is a Canadian company that holds a patent on manipulation of custom XML code. They alleged that Microsoft violated that patent when the company added the capability of Word to open documents that contained custom XML code. The trial court agreed and, in addition of the injunction, ordered payment of approximately $290 million in damages and interest.
A Word .docx file is actually a series of files in a zip format. One file contains the data, and another contains the mark up tags that define the presentation of that data. It is the customization of that mark up that is at issue, and how it is displayed in the document. The judge's order does not apply to data imported in a way which deletes the tags from view in the Word display. Microsoft violates the patents if the customized tags are visible in the display. There are others who have better knowledge the technical details which I do not pretend to have. I understand one of the important uses for this capability is to take older documents and mark them up using custom schemas to integrate them into other XML applications. See Mary Jo Foley's pos
t in ZDNet for some of the distinctions of custom XML.
i4i is described by some as a patent troll, that is, a company that sits on a valuable patent waiting to strike. Not the case here. i4i is in business using their patent. Microsoft was not only aware of i4i, but had a look at what they were doing and knew of the patent in question when creating Word 2007. There were emails from Microsoft with reference to making i4i's product "obsolete." Shades of Netscape.
Microsoft can patch Word to eliminate the offending feature, which is likely in the short term. The offending feature is hardly interesting to anyone who uses Word for what it is, a word processor. The appeals process should delay the implementation of the injunction. There is an possible avenue for settlement now that the companies have some idea of their legal standing. Don't expect Word to magically disappear from computers, or copies to disappear from the local Best Buy any time soon. More on this issue as it develops.
The complaint is here
, and the injunction is here
, and the final judgment is here
, thanks to the good folks at the online only Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [MG]
August 13, 2009 in Court Opinions | Permalink
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