Patent Suit Forces MSFT to Change to Word, Office

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. 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.

  • tester24
    I love how they put it "Little used function" like a slap in the face to i4i.
  • tester24
    edit* "little used feature" not function sheesh I need an editor :)
  • alexmx
    wait, doesn't patents expire after 10 years?

    I'm not fully aware of that system since I'm not american.
  • akhodjaev
    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...
  • sliem
    I also love the "to remove this little-used feature from our products." remark. Nice one, M$.
  • intelliclint
    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.
  • webbwbb
    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.
  • scytherswings
    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?
  • jhansonxi
    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.
  • rockyjohn
    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?