As my colleague Mary Jo Foley reported earlier today, Microsoft has lost a crucial court judgment over technology used in Office 2007:
Microsoft is going to have to cease providing Custom XML as part of its Office suite, as it has lost its appeal to overturn a patent-infringement verdict awarded to Toronto-based i4i for that technology.
I've read several scare headlines today claiming that Office and Word sales will grind to a halt on January 11, when the injunction takes effect. They're wrong. The OEM channel is already gearing up to switch to Office versions that don't contain the infringing code. Registered OEM partners got a tip-off that the judgment was on its way Monday afternoon, when Microsoft sent an e-mail notifying them of a "new supplement requirement for Office 2007." The message, which was sent to the US OPC Newsletter mailing list, reads as follows:
Microsoft Releases 2007 Office Supplement
A new supplement for the 2007 Microsoft Office system is required for the United States. After the supplement is installed, Microsoft Office Word will no longer read Custom XML elements contained within .docx, .docm, or .xml files. The files will open, but any Custom XML elements will be removed.
The web page that contains download links includes similar wording, with the word "required" in bold type. As the e-mail and accompanying download page make clear, this is a mandatory patch for OEMs that preinstall Office software on new PCs. It strips away the infringing functionality, which is used primarily by large corporate customers and does not affect files that use the standard Office formats.
And what about shrink-wrapped copies of Office sold at retail? In a prepared statement, Microsoft noted that the injunction affects only copies sold on or after the injunction date of January 11, 2010, and expressed confidence that it would be able to meet that deadline and replace retail stock with boxed Office copies that don't infringe on the patents:
With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products. Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date. In addition, the beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010, which are available now for downloading, do not contain the technology covered by the injunction.
While we are moving quickly to address the injunction issue, we are also considering our legal options, which could include a request for a rehearing by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals en banc or a request for a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court.
In an e-mail statement, Michel Vulpe, founder and co-inventor of i4i, said, "This ruling is clear and convincing evidence that our case was just and right, and that Microsoft willfully infringed our patent." The statement also contained an invitation for corporate customers who plan to use this feature in the future: "We will continue to fully and vigorously enforce our rights and we invite all potential customers interested in custom xml to contact us."