US supreme court to hear Microsoft appeal on Word patent

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TORONTO - The US supreme court has agreed to hear Microsoft’s appeal in the Word infringement case in which the software giant was held guilty of violating a patent held by Toronto-based i4i Inc. and ordered to pay $290 million in damages last year.

The Canadian company had taken the software giant to court in 2007 over violations of its patent in Word applications and won the case and got $290 million in damages last December.

In its 2007 lawsuit in a lower court in the US, i4i had claimed that the world’s biggest software company infringed on a patent granted to it in 1998.

The patent pertained to i4i’s technology that can open documents using the XML computer programming language and manipulate complex data in electronic documents.

The technology allows users to sort out and manage tons of information by turning complex documents into more accessible databases.

The Toronto company claimed that Microsoft violated its patent when it created Word 2003 and Word 2007 software.

Last year, the US court of appeals upheld the lower court order banning Microsoft from selling its patent-infringing Word processing software from January 11.

Microsoft complied with the court order by stopping selling versions of Word with the disputed technology from that date.

In May, the Canadian company also got another boost when the US Patent and Trademark Office rejected Microsoft’s request and confirmed that the belonged to i4i Inc.

But in August Microsoft took the case to the US apex court, arguing that the current system is disproportionately loaded in favour of patent holders.

“We are gratified by the court’s decision. It’s a clear affirmation that the issues raised in this case are critical to the integrity of our patent system,” Microsoft corporate vice president David Howard says of the US supreme court decision to hear its appeal.

In a case that that may fundamentally overhaul the US patent system, Microsoft is said to enjoy the backing of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

The supreme court hearing is likely to begin soon and the verdict is expected in the summer. If Microsoft loses, it will have to immediately pay $290 million in damages to the Toronto company. Reacting to Microsoft’s tactics to prolong the legal battle, i4i chairman Loudon Owen told the local Globe and Mail newspaper that Microsoft’s court challenge could “dramatically change the effectiveness and health of the US patent system” by making it easier for alleged violators to convince a court to rule a patent invalid.

“What’s the point of getting a patent if you can’t enforce it? This goes to the heart and soul of the U.S. patent system,” the owner of i4i said.

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at

Filed under: Court, Immigration, Lawsuit

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