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Microsoft can’t sell Word, says judge

Posted at 12 August 2009 22:27 CET by Jared Newman

Microsoft has infringed on a patent, and therefore must stop selling Word within 60 days, a U.S. District Court Judge has ruled.

The injunction from Judge Leonard Davis requires Microsoft to stop selling Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word for Mac 2008. In addition, Microsoft has been ordered to pay $290.6 million in damages and interest to the plaintiff, Toronto-based i4i, Computerworld reports.

The infringed patent pertains to the creation of custom XML documents in a Word file. The markup language lets users create forms or templates, in which words in certain fields are tagged and managed in a database. Governments and large corporations might use this feature, but most users aren’t likely to come across it.

i4ipatent

Still, the judge has banished any past or future version of Word that can even open documents using custom XML, a decision that will include the upcoming Word 2010.

It’s an eyebrow-raising verdict, but one that may not have any lasting effects for most users. Microsoft has already filed an appeal, and a stay of the injunction will likely be part of it. Beyond that, Microsoft could simply modify Word to exclude the infringing features, then add them in an update should the company prevail on appeal.

The bigger issue here, as with other tech patents we’ve seen, is whether the patent is so broad that it shouldn’t have been granted in the first place. This patent is somewhat vague in that it describes a general process for a document’s metacodes to feed into a storage unit, which is modified when the codes are updated. Factor in the Eastern Texas courts’ status as a place for patent trolls, and Microsoft has good reason to be “disappointed by the court’s ruling,” in the words of Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kurtz.

For now, let’s just take a moment to envision a world without Word. OpenOffice, anyone?

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