Microsoft gets court reprieve in the Word case

An appeals court has granted Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) request to put off an injunction that could have forced it to stop selling its Microsoft Word software next month.

Microsoft had appealed a court decision from mid-August that gave it 60 days to stop selling Word products that allow users to create custom XML documents. The ruling, which also includes additional damages Microsoft must pay, stemmed from a patent infringement suit filed in 2007 by Toronto-based company i4i. The court has ordered Microsoft to pay more than US$290 million in damages in total.

The most common versions of Word on the market now — Word 2003 and Word 2007 — both allow users to create custom XML documents. Custom XML lets people create forms or templates so that words in certain fields are tagged and can be managed in a database. The technology is used by large companies and government agencies, for example.

If the appeals court ultimately upholds the injunction, Microsoft could potentially develop a workaround that avoids using the disputed technology or strip the capability from the products.

I4i’s patent covers a technology that lets end-users manipulate document architecture and content. It filed its case in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and the injunction had been set to begin on Oct. 10.

Microsoft said it was pleased with the appeals court decision and that it looks forward to presenting its case at a hearing on Sept. 23.

That wasn’t the case for i4i’s chairman and the plantiff in this case Loudon Owen.

Owen said: “Defendant-Appellant Microsoft claims it may have to stop distributing Word and Office in the U.S. market until it can redesign both products. Microsoft’s scare tactics about the consequences of the injunction cannot shield it from the imminent review of the case by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeal on the September 23 appeal.”

Owen added that i4i is confident that the Final Judgment in favor of i4i, which included a finding of willful patent infringement by Microsoft and an injunction against Microsoft Word, was the correct decision and that i4i will prevail on the appeal.

Microsoft filed an Emergency Motion seeking more time to redesign Word and Office to comply with the Court Order. Owen’s comment about the emergency motion: “To paraphrase the great heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, ‘they can run, but they can’t hide’. Microsoft’s time will eventually run out.”

Louis actually said: “He can run, but he can’t hide”, which was in reference to Billy Conn. Conn was the light-heavyweight boxing champion in 1941 and deployed a hit and run strategy against the much bigger Louis during a title fight in that same year. Conn was leading on all scorecards when Louis knocked him out with two seconds left in the 13th round. This championship fight was listed as the greatest of the 20th Century by many boxing historians.

Owen said that i4i will file its responding brief with the Court on September 8, 2009.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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