Microsoft lost a court battle Tuesday with Toronto-based i4i over alleged patent infringement, with a Texas judge granting an injunction that prevents Microsoft from selling any version of Word that opens documents containing XML data. The ruling applies to Word 2003 and Word 2007, both of which contain technology that Judge Leonard Davis of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas said infringed on i4i's patent.
Now the ball is in Microsoft's court, and it has 60 days to change Word, settle with i4i or fight the ruling. Whatever the approach, Microsoft's not going to do anything that'll mess with the sanctity of one of its most important products.
In other words, bank on Microsoft having gone through that i4i patent with a fine-toothed comb by now, isolating every word, phrase or potential workaround that will undo what i4i -- and probably a number of other observers -- hopes is a landmark court ruling. Microsoft shares were up Wednesday, indicating just how much (read not at all) investors are worried about Word's future and Microsoft's ability to deal with this problem.
While Microsoft's not one to shy away from a legal fight, it might be the language in Judge Davis' ruling that previews the most likely outcome. What puts Word in violation of i4i's patent is the custom XML aspect -- Judge Davis even went so far as to note that versions of Word that open documents in plain text or transform it out of custom XML would be in the clear.
Those looking for a knock-down, drag-out legal battle over patent language from Microsoft, in other words, could find themselves looking at nothing more than a Word patch. It would alter Microsoft Word, sure, but the shortest route to keeping Word on sale has to be the one Microsoft is considering most.
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