You can't buy MS Word: i4i XML patent ruling

Microsoft Word will be banned from sale soon, per a court ruling for patent infringement. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers wonder who i4i is: patent troll or genuinely aggrieved inventor?

By Richi Jennings. August 13, 2009.

Your humble blogwatcher has selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention  Benny Hill: TNG...

John Oates makes the tea:

The US District Court of Eastern Texas has granted an injunction to prevent Microsoft from selling copies of Word because it infringes a patent owned by another company. The long-running court case was brought by Canadian software firm i4i which won $200m in damages from Microsoft when a jury found it had willfully infringed a patent relating to XML custom formatting.


Judge Leonard Davis told Microsoft to pay $40m for the willful infringement, $37m in prejudgement interest and $21,102 per day till final judgement is reached. The court also ordered Microsoft to hand over $144,060 a day until the date of final judgement of damages. Until that point Microsoft is banned from selling or importing into the US any Word products which can open .XML, .DOCX, or DOCM files containing custom XML.

Nick Eaton boggles on our behalf:

You read that right: Microsoft cannot sell Word, the judge ruled.


i4i alleges Microsoft willingly violated its 1998 patent (No. 5,787,449) on a method for reading XML. The company, whose Web site advertises that users can "Create and edit XML content in Microsoft Word," helps clients work with XML.

Mike Masnick pours sauce over the goose:

Of course, when you live by software patents, expect to die by software patents. ... Patent, 5,787,449, is about XML editing of a word processed document. How that could be worth $98 per copy of Word is beyond me. Actually, how it's patentable at all is beyond me... but that's another story.

  Of course, there's about 0% probability that this will actually stop the sales of Word. ... The Supreme Court says that a judge should weigh a variety of factors in determining if an injunction is reasonable. From the actual injunction, there's no evidence at all that the judge weighed anything at all. However, he gave Microsoft 60 days to comply, which is ample time for Microsoft to appeal. ... The whole thing shows (yet again) how screwed up the patent system has become. The fact that a judge would ban all sales of Microsoft Word because it can edit an XML document?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols stands up for Microsoft... wait, what?

It sounds like a joke. But, it's real and it's anything but a joke for Microsoft. ... i4i isn't a patent troll. It's a real company that uses its patented technology in real products. It also believes that Microsoft has used its patent in Word.


Microsoft may very well have to stop sales or disable Open XML, Word's new standard document format. This injunction will not be easy to dodge. ... I'm no fan of Microsoft. I also think Open XML is a junk standard. But ... Microsoft doesn't deserve this kind of punishment for this particular misdeed. ... U.S. patent law and enforcement has become a disgrace, and each such 'victory' drives up the cost of technology for all of us and makes real innovation ever harder to achieve.

Joe Wilcox gets out the atlas:

Tyler, Texas ... is the reputed "patent troll" capital. ... Plaintiffs tend to win big judgments there, and surrounding vicinity, against companies like Microsoft. As such, it's easy to dismiss yesterday's court judgment as meritless. But is it?


i4i is for real, selling XML-based collaborative solutions, mostly to pharmaceutical companies. The patent's age and existence of a real company producing real products makes this case look quite different from the typical patent troll case filed in Tyler or the surrounding area. ... Perhaps Microsoft has a problem. ... Even for Tyler, it's unusual for a judge to issue an injunction prohibiting sale of a major product, particularly something as widely used as Microsoft Word. The injunction says something about the seriousness of the violation.

But as John Timmer points out, "It could have been worse":

The original suit also claimed that .NET and Vista infringed the patent. The injunction does allow Microsoft to sell a version of Word that strips out all the XML elements, or one that loads the XML as plain text.

Preston Gralla has a legal suggestion:

A simple first solution to the problem might be to banish patent lawyers for a time (and the judges who enable them), and let common sense prevail. Now that might be an idea worth patenting.

So what's your take?

Get involved: leave a comment.

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

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