Microsoft Windows 7 Ramp-Up Continues, Despite Legal Battles

Microsoft's week was one of legal maneuvers, featuring briefs submitted by Redmond in both its patent-infringement case against i4i and the Google Book Search settlement. Despite much of its news being dominated by court proceedings, Microsoft also continues to take steps in its long ramp-up to the release of Windows 7, its new operating system upon which it has pinned many of its corporate hopes.

Microsoft's week could be described in one word: litigious.

The ongoing patent-infringement battle against i4i, the small Canadian company that argued successfully before an East Texas court that Microsoft Word violated its X M L-related patent, entered yet another round on Sept. 8. On that date, i4i submitted a responding brief to Microsoft's recent appeal.

Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, said in a statement following the filing of the brief that his company "refutes each and every one of the same weak defenses Microsoft repackaged from the trial and raised on appeal."

Despite the prospect of the case dragging far into the immediate future, Microsoft obtained some relief on Sept. 3 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington) granted Redmond's request to continue selling Word during the trial. The original verdict had stipulated that Microsoft needed to pull all copies of Word from store shelves within 60 days, as well as pay i4i nearly $300 million in fines.

Microsoft and other IT giants are no strangers to the East Texas court system, which has seen a startlingly high number of patent-infringement suits submitted within its jurisdiction in recent years. Small companies have demonstrated a history of winning patent-infringement suits there, leading some to accuse the local courts of inviting "patent trolling."

However, i4i has indicated publicly that it would prefer to fight out the case in open court rather than fall back on an out-of-court settlement. "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 said in an Aug. 17 interview with eWEEK.

Microsoft is also fighting a patent-infringement suit against Alcatel-Lucent SA, which is arguing that Microsoft Outlook violates its patent for touch-screen form entry technology. On Sept. 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington) overturned the $358 million judgment against Microsoft in the case, although the original verdict has currently been allowed to stand.

Microsoft has argued in the case that touch-screen form entry technology, as covered by Alcatel-Lucent's patent, plays no part in Outlook's e-mail function. Alcatel-Lucent, obviously, thinks the opposite. The two companies previously came to blows in 2007, with Alcatel-Lucent arguing that Microsoft had violated a pair of MP3-related patents; that case was eventually thrown out, but not before Microsoft found itself temporarily hit with a $1.52 billion judgment.

The Microsoft-Yahoo Deal: Under Examination

Redmond found its partnership deal with Yahoo under further examination by the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the terms of the original agreement, announced in July, Microsoft's search engine Bing will power Yahoo search, while Yahoo becomes the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies' search advertisers.

The Justice Department is examining the deal to ensure that the agreement is in compliance with antitrust laws. When approached by eWEEK, a Microsoft spokesperson said that Microsoft and Yahoo "have received requests for additional information about the agreement" and that "we anticipated that this deal will be closely reviewed and we are hopeful that it will be approved by early 2010."

Although the 10-year partnership agreement will give Microsoft nearly 30 percent of the U.S. search engine market, it faces a potential uphill battle in attempting to directly threaten Google, which holds a 65 percent market share. Nonetheless, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has previously expressed hope that the data flood from new users and advertisers coming to Bing from the Yahoo portal will lead to a refinement in the search engine's operations.