Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sale of Microsoft Word threatened by U.S. court injunction

The National Post has a story about a U.S. District Court judge issuing a permanent injunction barring software giant, Microsoft Corp., from selling its word processor in the United States. And, apparently, this is no rogue judge sticking it to corporate America, but rather Judge Leonard Davis is upholding an earlier jury verdict in the case—strike two, so to speak.

This is a serious matter for the judge also ordered the Redmond, Washington company—the world’s largest software maker—to pay Toronto-based i4i Inc. nearly US$290 million in damages for willfully violating a patent held by i4i Inc.

The affected versions of Microsoft’s word processer are Word 2003 and Word 2007. They are an essential part of the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite, which contributes about US$17 billion to the Redmond giant’s revenues.

Tyler,where the case was heard, is in Southeast Texas, which is reputedly the “patent troll” haven of North America. Patent holders have won huge judgments there against major corporations like Apple, Autodesk, Microsoft, National Semiconductor, Nintendo, Samsung, SanDisk and Sony. This is not to say, however, that i4i Inc.’s case is without merit. As technology pundit Joe Wilcox wrote:

“Even for Tyler, it’s unusual for a judge to issue an injunction prohibiting sale of a major product, particularly something as widely used as Microsoft Word. The injunction says something about the seriousness of the violation.”

Microsoft has been one of the most aggressive businesses when it comes to pursuing those who violate its software copyright. Won’t it be a delicious irony of sorts if it turns out that this anti-piracy zealot is itself a software thief.

We will, of course, see how this plays out in the next few months, but I’d not bet against i4i regardless of how deep Microsoft’s pockets are.

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