It may be April Fools' Day, but it's doubtful that Microsoft finds anything funny in a federal appeals court having declined its latest request for a multiple-judge review in an intellectual property lawsuit. The case, in which i4i alleges that Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 violate its custom XML-related patents, has already resulted in a $300 million judgment against Microsoft.
"This has been a long and arduous process, but this decision is a powerful reinforcement of the message that smaller enterprises and inventors who own intellectual property can and will be protected," Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, a small Toronto-based company, wrote in an April 1 statement reprinted on Reuters.
Reuters also indicated that Microsoft has the option of taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the short term, however, Microsoft was vague about its plans.
"We're disappointed with the decision," Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "As far as next steps, we continue to believe there are important matters of patent law that still need to be properly addressed, and we are considering our options going forward."
In August 2009, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas ordered Microsoft to yank copies of Word from store shelves within 90 days and pay i4i damages. Microsoft immediately filed an appeal.
On Dec. 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided to uphold the verdict, ordering that copies of Word be pulled from store shelves by Jan. 11. Microsoft responded at the time by asking for the review of the decision by all 11 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and by making an attempt to sidestep the alleged infringement by issuing a patch for Word.
"With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products," Kutz wrote in a Dec. 22 statement. "Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date" of Jan. 11, Kutz said.
The 12.9MB patch, made available on Microsoft's OEM Partner Center Website, removed custom XML elements from documents with those file types. On the OEM site, Microsoft placed a note that indicated the patch was "required for the United States" and would work "with all Office 2007 languages."
Microsoft may have hoped that the patch, combined with a positive review from the 11 judges, might have put an end to the long-running case. At this point, however, it looks like at least a few more legal maneuvers may be necessary before both parties exhaust themselves.
In previous interviews, i4i executives seemed to indicate a willingness to fight Microsoft to the bitter end. "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 on Aug. 17, 2009. "We're not in a position to guess or second-guess or speculate as to what the court is going to do."