Examine the patent that made selling Microsoft Word a crime

Summary:Updated: Microsoft is barred from selling any Microsoft Word products that can open XML files (.xml, .

Updated: Microsoft is barred from selling any Microsoft Word products that can open XML files (.xml, .docx and .docm), according to a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of i4i, a small Canadian company that sued the software giant for patent infringement.

What's this mean (Techmeme)? For now, not much. Microsoft will appeal and the legal proceedings will continue. But examining the patent, awarded in 1998, may be instructive. How thin is this patent (not to mention i4i's original complaint)? I grabbed the pertinent documents:

Download the PDFs in the case: i4i's 2007 complaint against Microsoft (with patent in question), the Aug. 11 injunction, and judgment against Microsoft.

According to the injunction, Microsoft is enjoined from selling "Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Word 2007, and Microsoft Word products not more than colorably different from Microsoft Word 2003 or Microsoft Word 2007." Microsoft also can't offer support or basically use XML.

I'm not patent lawyer, but i4i's patent (Exhibit A in its original complaint) sounds a bit generic. Meanwhile, Microsoft may already have a workaround anyway. Earlier this month, Microsoft won a patent for XML in word processing documents. Microsoft's patent is "directed at providing a word-processing document in a native XML file format that may be understood by an application that understands XML, or to enable another application or service to create a rich document in XML so that the word-processing application can open it as if it was one of its own documents."

Also seeMicrosoft patents XML word processing documents

Here's a look at i4i's case (download the complaint for the images and diagrams).

And the patent features many drawings that are a derivative of this one:

At least McKool Smith, the law firm representing i4i, got a good press release out of it. Judge Leonard Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas signed a permanent injunction against Microsoft and ordered total damages and interest of more than $290 million.

Under the ruling, Davis found that anything that touches custom XML formatting in Word infringes on i4i's patent. The patent, No. 5,787,4999, covers software designed to manipulate document architecture and content.

Davis ruled that Microsoft should pay $200 million in damages, $40 million for willful infringement, $37 million in prejudgment interest and damages by the day. However,

According to court documents, i4i filed its original complaint in 2007.

Many of the documents in the case were sealed, but the original complaint is worth a read. Did Microsoft get hosed in this one?

Update: A bevy of Talkbacks below ask about Open Office and other suites---basically anything that uses XML. I contacted, Douglas Cawley, the McKool Smith attorney leading the i4i case, and got the following:

Unfortunately, i4i can't reveal its licensing and enforcement strategy at this time.

Cawley added that i4i has no other pending suits at the moment.

Update 2: i4i tell CNet News that it's not out to destroy Microsoft. It just wants its patents recognized---and some dough.

Topics: Legal, Collaboration, Microsoft, Software

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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