The Seattle PI reports about a tragic patent ruling in the United States.
A Texas judge ruled Tuesday that Microsoft cannot sell one of its flagship products, Word, in the United States because of patent infringement. …Judge Leonard Davis.. ordered a permanent injunction that "prohibits Microsoft from selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML," according to an announcement by the plaintiff, Toronto-based i4i Inc.
i4i? Ah, the world famous inventor of the "Method and system for manipulating the architecture and the content of a document separately from each other" which is so basic to our digital societies?
In accordance with the Court’s contemporaneously issued memorandum opinion and order
in this case, Microsoft Corporation is hereby permanently enjoined from performing the following
actions with Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Word 2007, and Microsoft Word products not more
than colorably different from Microsoft Word 2003 or Microsoft Word 2007 (collectively “Infringing
and Future Word Products”) during the term of U.S. Patent No. 5,787,449:
1. selling, offering to sell, and/or importing in or into the United States any
Infringing and Future Word Products that have the capability of opening a .XML,
.DOCX, or .DOCM file (“an XML file”) containing custom XML;
2. using any Infringing and Future Word Products to open an XML file
containing custom XML;
3. instructing or encouraging anyone to use any Infringing and Future Word
Products to open an XML file containing custom XML;
4. providing support or assistance to anyone that describes how to use any
infringing and Future Word Products to open an XML file containing custom XML;
5. testing, demonstrating, or marketing the ability of the Infringing and Future
Word Products to open an XML file containing custom XML.
This injunction does not apply to any of the above actions wherein the Infringing and Future
Word Products open an XML file as plain text.
This injunction also does not apply to any of the above actions wherein any of the Infringing
and Future Word Products, upon opening an XML file, applies a custom tranform that removes all
custom XML elements.
This injunction further does not apply to Microsoft providing support or assistance to anyone
that describes how to use any of the infringing products to open an XML file containing custom
XML if that product was licensed or sold before the date this injunction takes effect.
This injunction becomes effective 60 days from the date of this order.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
So ORDERED and SIGNED this 11th day of August, 2009.
We may add that while Microsoft always pays lip service to patent reform and patent quality, it effectively obstructed even moderate steps of pragmatic reform in the field of software patenting with massive lobbying investment and an ideological agenda. An ideological motivation you don't find among all the other players which have a real business. The massive lobbying also applies to colonial attitudes towards patent regimes of third nations in which the American company operates, or the European Union, our main area of operations as the FFII e.V. Ironically Microsoft itself is a favourite target of troll challenges and no one knows how much profits Marshall Phelps actually generates by selling their Microsoft FAT patents. In the spectacular case of TomTom we were told it was a very small amount. Some American critics as Brian Kahin speak of a patent bubble of low value patents but how is it going to burst? When you have a licensing business a good patent is one that hurts. Maybe the Encyclopedia Brittannica is an example, it failed commercially and now became an (unsuccesful) patent enforcement agency against actual market players.
In the recent referral G03/08 about software patentability an European Patent Office case named T 424/03 (Microsoft) was center to the debate. Find the Amicus letters here. Currently you also have a pending referral on Bilski in the US Supreme Court which is more far reaching than software. In the US many examination tests were dismantled such as the machine or transformation box test which opened the flood gates and unbalanced the system. It was reintroduced under the Bilski ruling but appealed at the supreme court. The Bilski test does not rule out software or business method patents but provides means to reduce the pressure within the examination system in later stages.
First you wreck the law, then the trolls wreck you.
Software Patents are a pain for market players of all sizes. In Europe some people from the FFII Community run a new Petition and we also prepare an international effort. The FFII, a charity under German law financed by membership fees and donations, has a lot of expertise and proposals on how to overcome the current troll problems and improve the examination and litigation system. Unfortunately learning the hard way does not guarantee a quick learning process.
What does it mean to Open XML?
Right now ISO/IEC 29500 ("OOXML") is patent encumbered and cannot be called an "open standard" according to conventional definitions and looks unusable for the public sector. Microsoft's own patents and lack of licensing clarity were a real concern, but i4i's enforcement efforts are on another level. ISO Open XML is currently in a critical situation as you can expect more enforcement attempts of i4i to follow in order to sqeeze money out of the market, in particular once Microsoft is forced to pay. On the other hand Microsoft will be forced to use all legal means to get rid of the patent. We need to keep a close eye on the upcoming developments but i4i may not prevail.
Expect the FFII, Eurolinux and many others to fight for that.