Microsoft pulls Office from distribution channels on patent-infringement deadline day

Summary:January 11 is/was the day by which Microsoft was required to stop selling versions of Office or components of it that included the Custom XML technology, as a result of a patent-infringement ruling against the company. Given that Microsoft released to PC makers a patch designed to remove the infringing technology at the end of last year, it looked like the Softies were ready to comply with the ruling over a month ago. But now it looks like that wasn't the case....

January 11 is/was the day by which Microsoft was required to stop selling versions of Office or components of it that included the Custom XML technology, as a result of a patent-infringement ruling against the company.

Given that Microsoft released to PC makers a patch designed to remove the infringing technology at the end of last year, it looked like the Softies were ready to comply with the ruling over a month ago. But on or just before the actual compliance deadline, Microsoft ended up pulling existing copies of Office that included the technology from its various distribution channels and sites, including the Microsoft online store, MSDN and TechNet.

The products pulled/removed included various Office 2003, Word 2003, Office 2007 and Word 2007 SKUs. Microsoft officials told various blogs that the company planned to make available updated versions of these products soon via these same distribution outlets, but didn't provide an exact date. Computerworld noted that Microsoft provided a patch  Word 2003 over the weekend via its download center, advising Office 2003 customers to apply it. Computerworld also said Microsoft is planning to patch Word 2004 and Word 2008 for the Mac as part of the i4i ruling. (I asked Microsoft to verify this list of affected products on January 11. So far, no word back.)

Update (January 12): This just in from a Microsoft spokesperson with the Office team. The full list of products Microsoft is updating as a result of the i4i ruling is:

Word 2003 and Word 2007 Office 2003 Professional edition Office 2007 all versions Mac Office 2008 Word for Mac 2008

All of these are in the process of being updated, the spokesperson said. "They are uploaded as they are done.  If you go to the (Microsoft) Store page, Office 07 Home and Student, Professional, Ultimate, Mac Office 2008 for business are all available now," he added.

I wonder whether Microsoft officials were so convinced that the patent-infringement verdict against the company was going to be overturned that they didn't have a "Plan B" in place to patch Office in time for the court-set deadline. Either that or some at the company wanted to show just how disruptive the i4i ruling would be by making Office/Word unavailable for a while. (Yes, that sounds like a tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory, but such a move wouldn't be unprecedented. Look what happened with Windows 7E, the browserless version of Windows 7 that Microsoft nearly foisted on European users to make a point...)

Here's Microsoft's officials statement on what it's doing, courtesy of Michael Croan, Sr. Marketing Manager, Microsoft Office"

“We’ve taken steps to comply with the court’s ruling and we're introducing the revised software into the U.S. market. This process will be imperceptible to the vast majority of customers, who will find both trial and purchase options readily available.

"We’ve modified Microsoft Word and are in the process of introducing the new software into our distribution channels. The process won’t take long, and in the meantime customers outside the U.S. still have all of their online purchase options available. In the U.S., Office Ultimate, the Home & Student suite and Office Professional are already available for online purchase and download, and the other suites are available retail outlets.”

In December, Microsoft lost its appeal of a patent-infringement case involving Custom XML technology that was instigated by Toronto-based i4i. Late last week, Microsoft officials requested a rehearing, claiming that the $290 million or so ruling against the company was "egregiously excessive."

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Software

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Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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