The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Microsoft's appeal in its long-running patent case with Canadian firm i4i. That decision not only gives Microsoft yet another shot at overturning a substantial monetary judgment, but gives the Supreme Court a chance to leave its mark on the escalating patent-infringement battles gripping the tech industry.
The case before the Supreme Court is Microsoft v. i4i Limited Partnership, 10-290, and will be heard in early 2011.
Microsoft first asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal in August, seeking to overturn earlier rulings that both Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 violated i4i's patents for custom XML. In 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.
As with all their previous missives on the subject, i4i's executives indicated that they will pursue the case to the bitter end. "We continue to be confident that i4i will prevail," Loudon Owen, i4i's chairman, wrote in an Aug. 27 statement to Reuters.
An in-depth breakdown of i4i's patent by eWEEK can be found here. Because of Microsoft's alleged violation, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas ordered in August 2009 that all copies of Word 2003 and 2007 be removed from retail channels within 90 days. Despite Microsoft's attorneys managing to argue a delay, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled four months later to uphold the verdict, and ordered that the offending copies of Word be yanked from store shelves by early January 2010.
Microsoft responded by asking for a review by all 11 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, while also issuing a patch for Word that it insisted would sidestep the alleged infringement. The 12.9MB patch, made available on Microsoft's OEM Partner Center Website, removed custom XML elements from documents with those file types.
Yet the legal saga rolled merrily onward. In May, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of i4i's patent, something that Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz termed "disappointing."
In contrast to any number of patent-infringement cases quickly settled behind closed doors for undisclosed sums, i4i seems determined to keep Microsoft fighting in the courtroom. "Where we come from, if someone tries to take something that belongs to you, you stand up to them; you don't just reach for the calculator," Owen told eWEEK in August 2009. "We're not in a position to guess or second-guess or speculate as to what the court is going to do."
Whatever the Supreme Court's ultimate decision in the case, it could set a precedent for brewing patent-infringement battles. Microsoft is currently locking horns over intellectual property with Motorola, which is also being sued by Apple, which is battling with HTC and Nokia over the rights to certain mobile technology-merely the latest twists in an increasing trend.