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.
Google Book Search, Windows 7
The Google Book Search Brief
Microsoft found itself more on the attack in the recent controversy over the Google Book Search deal, joining Yahoo and a handful of other entities in asking the Department of Justice to examine Google’s settlement with authors and publishers over digitizing potentially millions of books.
Microsoft, Yahoo and groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and professors at the University of California have all joined in the Open Book Alliance, started by nonprofit Internet Archive group, to challenge the Google settlement.
The original deal between Google, the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers saw the search-engine giant paying $125 million for the right to scan “orphan” books-i.e., volumes still under copyright but whose original rights-holders cannot be found-into its digital collections. The antitrust rub to the agreement comes with a provision under which Google must be offered the same terms in negotiating digital book rights as any future competitor-a possible antitrust violation.
Microsoft argued that it was directly affected by the Google settlement.
“Microsoft Corporation has substantial interests in this proceeding,” read its Sept. 8 brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. “It owns Microsoft Press, a large technical publisher, and is a member of both the Publisher Sub-Class and the Author Sub-Class defined in Section 1.142 of the proposed settlement agreement with thousands of copyrighted works covered by its terms.”
Microsoft also framed the Google settlement as a threat to its new search engine:
“[Microsoft] also operates Bing, an Internet search engine that provides users with access to all types of digital information, and would be harmed by the anti-competitive effects of the proposed settlement.”
In non-legal-related news, Microsoft continued its ramp-up to the Oct. 22 release of Windows 7, its new operating system. On Sept. 8, the company released Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, a “solution accelerator” designed to help IT administrators deploy Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. (The Toolkit can also assist in the deployment of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP.)
That application can be downloaded from this site.
Microsoft’s ecosystem partners, notably Intel, have also started the drumbeat for an enterprise-centric tech refresh centered on Windows 7; in remarks fed by Dow Jones Newswires out of Taipei, Intel executives were quoted as suggesting that Windows 7 will “stimulate demand for corporate personal computers in 2010.”
Throughout the summer, Intel had been very much a cheerleader in suggesting that Windows 7’s adoption throughout the business community will be relatively rapid. On Sept. 1, Intel and Microsoft held a joint conference in which they attempted to show that Windows 7 will offer better processor performance and battery life for Intel-powered systems than Windows Vista, Microsoft’s previous and much-maligned operating system.
In the midst of a global recession, both Intel and Microsoft will need such a massive tech refresh to bolster bottom lines that have been affected by a downturn in PC sales.