Microsoft Argues Patent Infringement Case Before U.S. Supreme Court

its ongoing patent infringement dispute

Because Microsoft is arguing that it should be easier to challenge patents in court, the Supreme Court's decision could have broader ramifications in questions around protecting patents and intellectual property in the IT industry and beyond.

A ruling in the case is expected by July.

The four-year legal case stems from claims by Toronto-based i4i that technology Microsoft used in Word 2007 and Office 2007 for editing and customizing XML code infringed on i4i patents. In 2009 i4i won a jury trial in U.S. District Court and was awarded $290 million in damages and fines.

Since then Microsoft's efforts to have the verdict overturned in higher courts, including the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, have failed.

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At one point in 2009 Microsoft was faced with the possibility that it might be barred from selling its Office and Word applications. The company has since removed the disputed code from Word 2007 and Office 2007 and has not used it in newer releases of the applications.

Patent disputes in court generally put the onus on defendants to prove that a plaintiff's patent is invalid. Monday Microsoft argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that such cases should only require a preponderance of evidence that a patent is invalid, using the same standard of proof often used in other civil cases, rather than "clear and convincing evidence" a patent is invalid, according to published reports by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

A court ruling in favor of Microsoft, which is seeking a new trial in the case, could mean that a less exacting standard of proof is needed to declare a patent invalid. That could make more patents vulnerable to legal challenges, the Reuters story said.

Attorneys for i4i and the Obama Administration argued before the court that the "clear and convincing evidence" standard has been in effect for at least 28 years and is based on long-settled precedents, according to the Reuters story.

The Wall Street Journal article said questioning by the eight justices hearing the case raised the broader issue of how to balance the need to reward innovation while ensuring that companies can't unreasonably lock up obvious developments.

Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because he owns Microsoft stock.