Microsoft's week involved a U.S. Supreme Court case with i4i, co-founder Paul Allen's memoir hitting shelves, and a signing of the Nokia phone deal.
week kicked off in a particularly noteworthy way, with the company's legal
counsel arguing April 18 before the U.S. Supreme Court that the longstanding
standards for patent infringement should be lowered.
Canadian firm i4i are concluding a years-long court battle, sparked by the
latter claiming Word 2003 and 2007 violated its patents for custom X M L. Chief
Justice John Roberts, who apparently owns Microsoft stock, recused himself from
the case. Out of the remaining eight justices, Microsoft must win five votes in
order to succeed in its appeal and overturn earlier rulings in i4i's favor.
counsel argued that the overwhelming evidence needed to invalidate patents
makes it too difficult for companies to beat back frivolous patent-infringement
suits, and that the standard of proof needs to be lowered.
argued that the precedent is a sound one.
abundantly clear that the fundamental change in the law, which Microsoft seeks,
would result in an enormous decrease in innovation," i4i chairman Loudon Owen
wrote in an April 18 statement. "Microsoft did not present either policy or
legal reasons that would justify any changes to the law, particularly the
sweeping change they now apparently seek."
first asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal in August, seeking to overturn
earlier rulings concerning i4i's patents. The previous April, a federal appeals
court had rejected Microsoft's request for a multiple-judge review of the
lawsuit, which resulted in a nearly $300 million judgment. The bulk of
Microsoft's troubles, though, began in August 2009, when a federal judge for
the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas ruled in i4i's favor and ordered that
all copies of Word 2003 and 2007 be removed from store shelves.
Microsoft eventually issued a patch for Word that it insisted would sidestep
the alleged infringement, it has been battling the case through the court
system ever since. The Supreme Court case is filed under Microsoft Corp. vs.
i4i Limited Partnership and Infrastructures for Information, No. 10-290. The
judges could hand down a decision by the end of June.
line: tech vendors attacked by patent trolls are only asking for payback by
reducing the standards in patent law," Ray Wang, principal analyst of
Constellation Research, wrote in an April 19 response to eWEEK's query about
the Supreme Court case's ramifications. "If Microsoft wins, it's a check and
balance against patent trolls. If i4i wins, innovators who feel their rights
have been trampled by large evil tech vendors will have protected their
The day after
Microsoft's April 19 appearance at the Supreme Court, the company found itself
somewhat in the spotlight again, with the release of co-founder Paul Allen's
memoir "Idea Man."
parts of the book portray a young and driven Bill Gates, balanced somewhat by
Allen, who takes pains throughout his narrative to downplay both his ambitions
and strengths in areas like mathematics. Having founded Microsoft in 1975, the
two worked to make their baby a force in the then-nascent software industry.
and Allen's mutual love of programming, the book details how tensions soon
developed between the two. At one point, Allen accuses Gates and Steve
Ballmer-the latter now the company's CEO-of scheming to reduce his stock
options in the company.
in late December 1982," he wrote, "I heard Bill and Steve speaking heatedly in
Bill's office and paused outside to listen in. It was easy to get the gist of
the conversation. They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and
discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to
themselves and other shareholders."
and Ballmer apparently tried to patch things up, Allen eventually resigned his
post. Microsoft stock eventually made him a billionaire, and he parlayed the
cash into business ventures including the Seattle Seahawks and a stake in
In his book,
Allen bemoans how Microsoft has lost some of its early aggression. "Complacency
has taken its toll, most tellingly in the newest competitive areas of
smartphones and tablets, like the iPad," he wrote. "History shows that you
ignore emerging platforms at your peril, because one of them might make you
In their next
step to combat those emerging platforms, Microsoft and Nokia signed a
definitive agreement to partner on Windows Phone 7. Under the terms of that
agreement, Nokia will manufacture devices loaded with Microsoft's Windows Phone
7, a mobile operating system that eschews the iPhone's or Android's grid-like screens
of individual applications in favor of subject-specific "Hubs." Both Microsoft
and Nokia have lost substantial ground to mobile competitors such as Google and
Apple in recent years, and the partnership is viewed as a way for both to
definitive agreement now signed, both companies will begin engaging with
operators, developers and other partners to help the industry understand the
benefits of joining the new ecosystem," read a joint statement issued April 21
. "At the
same time, work will continue on developing Nokia products on the Windows Phone
platform, with the aim of securing volume device shipments in 2012."
MIX11 conference in Las Vegas earlier in April, Microsoft touted Windows Phone
7 as being ideal for third-party developers. Future additions to the platform
include the introduction of Angry Birds in May, Skype and a Spotify music
application sometime in the autumn, and a massive software update, code-named
"Mango," which will introduce augmented reality capability, Internet Explorer 9
and a version of multitasking. Mango's actual release date remains unclear,
recent data from analytics firm comScore, Microsoft's share of the smartphone
market dipped to 7.7 percent for the three months ending in February-down from
9 percent in November 2010, and a sufficient drop to place the platform behind
Google Android, Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry franchise.