Judge Tells Microsoft To Stop Selling Word…. WTF?

Here’s something that I didn’t see coming. Judge Leonard Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas which is the home of Patent Tolls ordered Microsoft to stop selling and importing Microsoft Word into the US in its current form because it had allegedly infringed on a XML related patent held by Toronto based i4i Inc:

During the trial, attorneys from McKool Smith and Tyler, Texas-based Parker, Bunt & Ainsworth successfully argued that Microsoft infringed the i4i patent issued in 1998, U.S. Patent No. 5,787,499, which covers software designed to manipulate “document architecture and content.” The software covered by the patent removed the need for individual, manually embedded command codes to control text formatting in electronic documents.

Microsoft was also ordered to pay an additional $40 million for willful infringement, as well as $37 million in prejudgment interest. The order requires Microsoft to comply with the injunction within 60 days and forbids Microsoft from testing, demonstrating, or marketing Word products containing the contested XML feature. The patent in question as quoted above is No. 5,787,449 which is for a document system that eliminated the need for manually embedded formatting codes. ZdNet had a look at the patent and they seem to think that it is kind of generic.

To the absolute surprise of nobody, Microsoft is appealing this. I also expect them to keep selling Word for the time being as well.

My thoughts on this?

  1. OpenOffice uses XML by default. So do a lot of other apps. So does that mean that a lot of people can expect lawsuits shortly, or is this a case of “sue the deepest pockets?”
  2. If all else fails, Microsoft could simply release some sort of patch that makes Word save in the .DOC format rather than the XML format that they’re using now. Although I’m sure for them that would be less than ideal.

Further to that, Bill Gates must have seen this coming way back in 1991 as he had an interesting comment on the subject:

“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then they have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. “

That sort of sounds like what we’re discussing today.

Suddenly, Microsoft doesn’t seem so bad at the moment.

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