Microsoft files suit to defend Visual Studio users

Software vendor seeks to invalidate patents used to sue Allstate, Dell and FedEx

Microsoft Corp. filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week, asking a judge to invalidate several patents that are the subject of infringement suits filed by WebXchange Inc. against three large companies over their use of Microsoft's Visual Studio development tools.

WebXchange, an online transaction services provider in Menlo Park, Calif., sued Allstate Insurance Co., Dell Inc. and FedEx Corp. last March in federal court in Delaware. The lawsuits, all filed on the same day, claim that some of the online services offered by the three companies violate patents held by WebXchange. For example, WebXchange alleges that FedEx is infringing on three patents in an online system, launched four years ago, that lets customers send print jobs to its Kinko's stores.

Microsoft isn't mentioned in any of the three complaints. But the software vendor said in its lawsuit against WebXchange that the claims against Allstate, Dell and FedEx relate to their use of Visual Studio. Microsoft added that by asking the court in San Francisco to declare WebXchange's patents invalid, it hopes to defend the three sued customers and spare other Visual Studio users from similar legal actions.

Allstate, Dell and FedEx have all sought indemnification from Microsoft since being sued by WebXchange, the software vendor noted in its lawsuit. Microsoft and most other large vendors typically indemnify their customers, so the vendors themselves bear the responsibility for any problems if their products are found to cause legal harm, including patent infringement.

Microsoft claimed that the patents issued to WebXchange were clearly based on existing technologies and thus should be invalidated. It also said that it has tried to discuss the existing infringement lawsuits and any possible future actions with WebXchange but that the latter company has refused to talk.

Neither Microsoft nor WebXchange responded immediately to requests for additional comment on the lawsuits.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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