Microsoft ships Office 2007 patch to meet court deadline

Update for users strips out patent-infringing technology

Microsoft on Wednesday posted an update for Word 2007 that ditches the custom XML tagging technology a federal court banned the company from including in its software after Jan. 10.

Previously, Microsoft had produced a patch for computer makers who factory-install Microsoft Office 2007 on new PCs before they're shipped to distributors, retailers or customers.

The update, which weighs in at 12.3MB and was added to Microsoft's download site Wednesday, is mandatory only for customers who purchase or license Word 2007 for use in the U.S. after this Sunday.

In an accompanying support document, Microsoft also said it will distribute a similar patch for Word 2003, although that update has not yet appeared on the company's site.

Users who bought or licensed Word before Jan. 10 do not have to apply the patch.

The patch turns an existing copy of Word 2007 into the twin of what Microsoft is required to market after Sunday. With the patch's availability, copies of Office 2007 and Word 2007 already on store shelves may be salable, assuming Microsoft gets the word out to those customers that they need to apply the fix. "You must install this update if you are instructed by Microsoft in a separate communication," Microsoft said in the support document, hinting that it will do just that.

Microsoft assured customers that applying the patch would not affect Office Word content controls, the Office Open XML (OOXML) formats that Word 2007 supports or the Custom XML markup data stored within older Word formats from the Word 97-Word 2003 eras.

The move was forced on Microsoft by a federal appeals court two weeks ago when it rejected the company's appeal of an injunction applied by a lower court several months ago. The case, which began in 2007, pitted Canadian software developer i4i against Microsoft when the former accused the latter of illegally using its XML editing technology in Word.

In May 2009, a Texas jury said Microsoft violated i4i's patent, and ordered it to pay i4i nearly $300 million in damages. The federal judge overseeing the lawsuit issued his injunction on Aug. 11.

The case has attracted interest primarily because of that injunction, which originally was set to take effect Oct. 10, 2009. The injunction was suspended after Microsoft threatened that sales chaos would result, and several major computer makers, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell, stepped forward to back Microsoft's claim.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer, send e-mail at gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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