Microsoft Faces New Setback in Patent Infringement Case

Microsoft was handed another setback in the long-running patent infringement case leveled against it by Canadian firm i4i, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of i4i's patent at the center of the dispute. For some time, i4i has argued that both Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 violate the patent's custom XML-related properties. Faced with the potential for massive fines, Microsoft is considering whether to submit a petition to the Supreme Court over the matter.

Microsoft faced another setback in a long-running intellectual property case May 11, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of a patent allegedly infringed by the software giant. Canadian firm i4i insists that both Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 violate its patent's custom XML-related properties.

The twists and turns of the case extend back to August 2009, when a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas ordered Microsoft to pull copies of Word from store shelves within 90 days and pay i4i damages for allegedly violating U.S. Patent 5,787,499. Microsoft immediately filed an appeal, but the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided to uphold the verdict in December. Microsoft responded to that setback by asking for a review of the decision by all 11 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and by issuing a patch that would supposedly sidestep the alleged infringement.

On April 1, Microsoft was denied a multiple-judge review of the lawsuit. While reports at the time indicated that Microsoft had the option of taking the case to the Supreme Court, the company remained vague about its plans.

For its part, i4i seemed pleased with this latest development in the case.

"This is a very material step in our litigation against Microsoft," Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, wrote in a May 11 statement. "Put simply: i4i's patent is clearly and unequivocally valid. Even though Microsoft attacked i4i's patent claims with its full arsenal, the Patent Office agreed with i4i and confirmed the validity of our -449 patent.'"

Owen explained that the patent "infuses life into the use of Extensible Mark Up Language (XML) and dramatically enhances the ability to structure what was previously unstructured data. As the magnitude of data grows exponentially, this is a critical technological bridge to controlling and managing this sprawling octopus of data and converting it into useful information."

If i4i seemed pleased, Microsoft was just as understandably frustrated by the decision.

"We are disappointed," Kevin Kutz, Microsoft's director of public affairs, wrote in a May 11 statement, "but there still remain important matters of patent law at stake, and we are considering our options to get them addressed, including a petition to the Supreme Court."

While many intellectual property cases have a propensity to be settled out of court, previous interviews with i4i executives indicated a willingness to contest the matter through the legal system. "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 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."