Boom! This is a broadside attack fired right into Microsoft’s exposed flank: It’s just lost a court case against Canadian firm i4i over patents. The penalty is a $290 million fine, and an order to fix MS Word’s code, or stop selling it.
Back in August Microsoft was determined to be in violation of XML-customization patents owned by i4i, and also, thanks to the dominance of the word processor in the workplace, of capturing 80% of the XML add-on market, which caused disruption to i4i’s normal business. That was a district court decision, and Microsoft appealed. It’s that appeal which has just been denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals. (XML, for those not in the know, is a digital language for encoding the format of word-processed documents.)
The penalty is a fine of nearly a third of a billion dollars, which is significant enough to slightly dent MS’s bottom line. But the injunction granted against Microsoft also requires the company to excise the infringing XML code from the on-sale version of Word. Within three weeks. Or, and this is the absolute shocker: Microsoft must stop selling Word.
As a key part of Microsoft Office, and a vital tool used by business people, academics and people at home the world over (no matter how maligned it is for being badly written an user-unfriendly), if MS were to stop selling Word the repercussions could be surprising. And of course, Microsoft isn’t taking that route–you can imagine it has a coding team on the surgical removal job already. Oddly the injunction also requires MS to stop “using” the infringing versions of Word too–though we can only assume that means within the company, rather than barring everyone around the World from using copies of Word 2007.
Update: According to the folks at ComputerWorld I was right–Microsoft’s coder team was very swift (or had planned in advance) and Micorosoft now has a patch available that strips out the infringing XML edit-related code from Microsoft Office. The patch is intended for original equipment makers that churn out Windows PCs in vast numbers–but though MS was swift, the court-imposed three week deadline is likely to cause a headache for makers like Dell who’ll already have huge numbers of PCs partly built, or in store-rooms awaiting order. All of these machines will have to be patched if they’re to be sold after January 11.