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News - Judge bans Microsoft from selling Word

Aug 12, 2009 Judge bans Microsoft from selling Word
By: Kim Peterson

No, you don't have to get your eyes checked. You read the headline correctly: A Texas judge has banned Microsoft from selling Word in the United States.

And now, in the worst-case scenario, Microsoft may have to pull Word off the shelves by October. The chances of that actually happening are very small. Still, this makes for some interesting drama.

That anything this exciting has come out of a patent-infringement case is a shocker. These cases are snoozers, and this particular one involves the dreadfully dull subject of XML, a programming language (I'm told the better description here is "markup" language).

But the decision to place the lawsuit in Tyler, Tex., is leading some to suggest that Microsoft may be a victim here. Tyler is the reputed "patent troll" capital of North America, writes former Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox. Big patent victories against companies there are fairly common.

In fact, companies including Apple, National Semiconductor, Nintendo, Samsung and Sony have all traveled to southeast Texas to defend themselves, Wilcox writes. Lawyers for i4i say they chose Tyler simply because the time to trial is short.

Here's the issue: The 2003 and 2007 versions of Word allow users to open up and customize XML documents. Most Word users will probably never use this tool. But in adding this feature, Microsoft raised the hackles of Toronto-based i4i, which says it has a patent covering the technology.

So i4i sued, and in May a jury found Microsoft guilty. Microsoft was ordered to pay $200 million to i4i, but the judge this week upped that amount to nearly $300 million.

The judge, Leonard Davis, also said that Microsoft can't sell Word 2003 and 2007. From now on, he said, Word isn't allowed to open any files that contain custom XML. There is a way around this, according to PC Magazine. Microsoft can tweak Word to open the files in plain text, or in some way that would eliminate the custom XML.

A big win for i4i. But the company isn't gloating. In an interview with Cnet, i4i Chairman Loudon Owen said he doesn't want Word taken off of store shelves.

"The injunction is not saying there is no more Word for the world," Owen said in the interview. "That is not our intention and that would not be a sensible remedy." Owen said he'd like to see Microsoft sell a version of Word that doesn't infringe on i4i's technology.

I'm sure he wouldn't mind a monster settlement payment either. Microsoft, for its part, says it will appeal the verdict.

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