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Patent Suit Forces MSFT to Change to Word, Office

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 39 comments

Microsoft yesterday lost an appeal to reverse an injunction that prevents the company from selling its Word processing software. Microsoft must now alter Word so that it does not infringe on a patent owned by i4i.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington yesterday ruled that Microsoft must change Office or pull the software from shelves by January 11. 

Back in August, Microsoft was ordered to pay Toronto-based i4i $290 million for infringing upon a patent awarded to the company in 1998. U.S. Patent No. 5,787,499 covers software designed to manipulate "document architecture and content."

According to attorneys at McKool Smith, the firm representing i4i, the software covered by the patent removed the need for individual, manually embedded command codes to control text formatting in electronic documents. Aside from paying the hefty damages, Microsoft was ordered not to sell or import any Microsoft products that had the capability to open .XML, .DOCX or .DOCM files containing custom XML, to the United States.

Microsoft quickly appealed the ruling and filed an emergency motion to block the injunction saying it causes irreparable harm to the company. "Even if Microsoft ultimately succeeds on appeal, it will never be able to recoup the funds expended in redesigning and redistributing Word, the sales lost during the period when Word and Office are barred from the market, and the diminished goodwill from Microsoft's many retail and industrial customers," the company said in a statement.

The courts awarded Microsoft a temporary stay but i4i remained confident that it would come out on top when the appeal rolled around. "Microsoft's scare tactics about the consequences of the injunction cannot shield it from the imminent review of the case by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal on the September 23 appeal," i4i Chairman Loudon Owen said in a statement. "i4i is confident that the final judgment in favor of i4i, which included a finding of willful patent infringement by Microsoft and an injunction against Microsoft Word, was the correct decision and that i4i will prevail on the appeal."

Yesterday it seemed Microsoft had changed its tune when it came to the consequences of having to redesign word. Bostom.com cites a pretty brazen statement in which Microsoft declares it had been working on a change since the August verdict and had “put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from our products.’’

Kevin Kutz, a spokesperson for Microsoft, said copies of Office and Word with the altered software will be available in January and the already available beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010 don’t contain the technology covered by the injunction.

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  • 17 Hide
    tester24 , December 23, 2009 3:28 PM
    I love how they put it "Little used function" like a slap in the face to i4i.
Other Comments
  • 17 Hide
    tester24 , December 23, 2009 3:28 PM
    I love how they put it "Little used function" like a slap in the face to i4i.
  • 3 Hide
    tester24 , December 23, 2009 3:29 PM
    edit* "little used feature" not function sheesh I need an editor :) 
  • -2 Hide
    alexmx , December 23, 2009 3:30 PM
    wait, doesn't patents expire after 10 years?

    I'm not fully aware of that system since I'm not american.
  • 3 Hide
    akhodjaev , December 23, 2009 3:35 PM
    My suggestion would be to buy i4i instead of paying them fine...

    And that will take care all patent issues... and it may not cost as much, as well they will not spend extra money on redesign

    And if I4I has other patents they may use it in the future...
  • 2 Hide
    sliem , December 23, 2009 3:49 PM
    I also love the "to remove this little-used feature from our products." remark. Nice one, M$.
  • 2 Hide
    intelliclint , December 23, 2009 4:01 PM
    The problem is the patient pretty much covers all programs that convert file that uses proprietary meta data to hold document formatting commands and converts it into SGML format like XML to hold those same commands. Really this company should have be granted a copyright for their software not a patient on the idea.

    This means Open Office is also in violation.
  • 8 Hide
    webbwbb , December 23, 2009 4:03 PM
    I hope i4i doesn't sue me! I use XHTML on my website to manipulate text. Since XHTML uses XML then I guess they could now sue any site that uses that standard since it clearly infringes on their patent.
  • 3 Hide
    scytherswings , December 23, 2009 4:03 PM
    I may be mistaken, but what about all those other text editing programs? Is OpenOffice.Org infringing on this patent too? What about Apple's iWork?
  • 4 Hide
    jhansonxi , December 23, 2009 4:05 PM
    Of course this won't stop Microsoft from filing a few thousand more non-innovative patents of their own in the next year. The USA patent office and patent lawyers are both happy with the current situation.
  • 0 Hide
    rockyjohn , December 23, 2009 4:50 PM
    What exactly does this mean and what is the impact?
    Does this just apply to some "custom XML" or all XML?

    If I used just general Word functions and stored documents in XML will I not be able to open and use them in future versions of XML?
  • 6 Hide
    Shadow703793 , December 23, 2009 5:03 PM
    Quote:
    Patent Suit Forces MSFT to Change to Word, Office

    So what your saying is that Microsoft will no longer be Microsoft and instead, will be Word? :lol: 

    Please proof read.
  • -1 Hide
    sliem , December 23, 2009 5:12 PM
    @Shadow703793: there is no such thing in TH news. This is Kevin's personal blog. Leave him alone with his spelling errors, typos, wrong video link and invisible article contents.
  • -2 Hide
    jcknouse , December 23, 2009 5:23 PM
    Funny thing is...

    The "little-used feature" is on 10Ms of computers in businesses and houses in the United States. So, that "little-used feature" is part of billions of executions of document formatting daily.

    That little used feature was important enough that Microsoft "willfully infringed" on i4i's patent.

    Good job, i4i. Nice to see someone not get run over by the Microsoft 800 lb gorilla for a change.
  • -4 Hide
    socrates047 , December 23, 2009 5:39 PM
    Yay Toronto Company.
  • 3 Hide
    T-Bone , December 23, 2009 6:15 PM
    Agree w/demonhorde665. Why they even got a patent for such a non-specific & generic functionality, is beyond me? How this actually helps anyone, is also beyond me.
  • 1 Hide
    ice_mountain_ , December 23, 2009 7:05 PM
    ludicrous that ppl can patent a general idea. i should be allowed to patent a "self-powered 4 wheel vehicle" and then sue every motor company in existence
  • 7 Hide
    dheadley , December 23, 2009 8:02 PM
    First of all, if you read any of the hundreds of articles all around the web earlier this year you would know that this patent is not:

    1. a patent on XML and the whole XML is ment to be customized so it should be invalid does not cover it.

    2. is not non-specific or generic in any way, nor was it obvious back when it this company came up with it which was years before the feature was added to word.

    3. a company that is just sueing because they have a patent and no real product. In fact they were for years the largest and most successful data specialist of this type there was.

    The federal government gave them the largest government contract ever issued to any one company, including Microsoft, to completely overhaul the United States Patent Office using this very technology. They are also co-developer of the FDA's electronic documentation system that all drug companies and such have to use.

    Right after these two things happened Microsoft "conviently" inserted the ability to interact with those agencies electronic documentation systems, which are not standard XML, into Word after entering into a collaberation partnership with i4i, getting their hands on the code and then desolving the collaberation as having no worthwhile outcome. Then turning around a short time later and releasing the code in Word.

    A few months back I read at least ten articles from major developers, patent researchers, technology analsyst and so on that read the patent and explained in great detail why it was pretty much iron-clad and was not invalidated by a whole bunch of different "prior art" suggestions going all the way back to computings early days that were being tossed out there in message boards just like this one.

    Through the couple years that this suit has been going on Microsoft with all its money has never been able to offer any evidence that the patent is invalid, and as of the stories a few months back had never actually offically challenged the patent with the USPO. On the other hand it was proven with emails, letters and other documentation that they knowingly violated the patent with full knowledge of their actions. So much so that a JURY, plain average people and not some judge in some patent troll friendly court, awarded them over $200m dollars when they were only asking for $25m, which is what they considered to be the liscensing fee that Microsoft should have paid for all the copies of Word it had sold in the years it was infringing.


  • 0 Hide
    rockyjohn , December 23, 2009 9:29 PM
    Dhedley, since you appear to be knowledable on this subject, can you answer my questons:

    What exactly does this mean and what is the impact?

    If I used just general Word functions and stored documents in XML will I not be able to open and use them in future versions of XML?

  • 0 Hide
    rockyjohn , December 23, 2009 9:34 PM
    Quote:
    The federal government gave them the largest government contract ever issued to any one company, including Microsoft, to completely overhaul the United States Patent Office using this very technology. They are also co-developer of the FDA's electronic documentation system that all drug companies and such have to use.

    Right after these two things happened Microsoft "conviently" inserted the ability to interact with those agencies electronic documentation systems, which are not standard XML, into Word after entering into a collaberation partnership with i4i, getting their hands on the code and then desolving the collaberation as having no worthwhile outcome. Then turning around a short time later and releasing the code in Word.

    So our dear government let them build a system with proprietary code that prevented document sharing with the most common word processing system used by business and the public? I thought companies and governemts learned long ago about the problems of incompatibility between systems and took appropriate steps to prevent it.
  • 2 Hide
    dheadley , December 23, 2009 10:07 PM
    @rockyjohn

    They went with the "proprietary" code of this system over the "proprietary" Microsoft format because it designed with one purpous that no Microsoft format at the time was well suited for. The storage of vast amounts of information in minimal space, the fast searching and retrieval of information, submission and/or conversion of all information to a common format, seperation of information from document formatting, who knows how many reasons or what they were at the time.

    Microsoft on the other hand can't get compatability right between versions of thier own products. Who would want to except document submissions from people in whatever version they happen to have. It's one thing to run Office in one company, because you have control over the version you are running. It's another to have no control over what version outside sources are using to send their data to you.

    BTW, I am not knowledgable about it other than reading the articles around the web that have popped up during the two or three times that this court battle has made it to the headlines and then doing a few google and bing searchs on the company i4i and reading about their accomplishments.

    Really I am not pro-i4i or anti-Microsoft overall. I am just a little baffled and annouyed that each time this has hit the headlines there has been this attitiude that Office/Word is just so damn important that even if the infringement is true, the government should just take the patent from this company and give it to Microsoft so Word is not affected. I find it very offensive that ANYONE would ever justify taking someone else's work and giving it to a big corporation for the good of the public. WOrd is not that important by a long shot. I'd rather see it be permanently banned than see a president such as that set.
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