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April 30, 2007

Scotus Rules for MS Over AT&T in Patent Case

The Supreme Court sided with Microsoft in a patent dispute with AT&T.  Microsoft used AT&T technology that involved compressed speech in Windows.  The issue concerned the calculation of damages.  AT&T wanted damages to be calculated using every copy of Windows sold world wide.  It's not a stretch of the imagination that U.S. law stops at the border, more or less. 

AT&T invoked a provision of patent law (§271(f)) that prevents U.S. infringers from shipping components to other countries as a way of escaping liability.  Foreign editions of Windows are generated from a master disc created by Microsoft and sent to manufacture overseas.  AT&T argued that this is the same thing.  The lower courts agreed and the Supreme Court said no.

The two questions before the Court were when and in what form does software become a component under patent law and has Microsoft supplied from the United States such components to foreign manufacturers.  AT&T argued that software as an abstraction could be considered a component.  Microsoft argued that only a copy of the software should be considered a component.  The Court agreed with Microsoft in that software had to be attached to a medium to be considered a component.  As to the latter question, the Court concluded that copies of Windows installed on foreign computers were supplied and manufactured outside the United States and does not trigger §271(f) liability.

The opinion is Microsoft Corp. v. AT&T Corp., No. 05-1056.  The case was argued on February 21st of this year.  The transcripts are here.

April 30, 2007 | Permalink


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