Of all the big tech companies out there, it seems that Microsoft finds itself in court more often than any of the others. They’ve been in patent battles with a company called i4i for several years, ever since Word and other Office apps started supporting XML.
The patent suit is over the algorithms that Microsoft uses to convert and save .xml, .docx, and .docm files. i4i is a database design company that holds a patent on a specific set of algorithms they created in 2000 to convert USPTO database (Office) files to XML formats. Judging by the court battles, it appears that the Seattle Giant blatantly ripped them off.
The new court ruling means that Microsoft has four options: don’t ship Office as of January 11, hurriedly remove the XML support from MS Office to continue sales in 2010, hurry up and pay off i4i so they can keep shipping Office, or attempt to get the case heard in the Supreme Court.
None of these are winning options for Microsoft. At least they don’t have to recall a bunch of past editions of their product and those of us who decided to tell MS and their high-dollar (crappy) software to shove off while we use OpenOffice will be totally unaffected, according to Engadget.
According to an official press statement from Microsoft, they expected to lose and have taken steps to use option #2: remove support from shipping copies. They also claim that the 2010 Office Suite (in beta now) do not contain the infringing code. I’m sure i4i would prefer to be the final judge of that.
The patent is actually from 1994 and, according to eWeek, Microsoft has applied for a patent with similar technology that could be their replacement plan. Regardless, it may be that i4i is now $290 million richer. Minus lawyer fees, of course.