A Texas federal court ordered Microsoft to stop selling Microsoft Word or any editions of Microsoft Office containing Microsoft Word (that would be all versions of Microsoft Office) pending a final decision in an ongoing patent challenge. Microsoft has 60 days to comply with the order can cease sales of Microsoft Word. Don’t panic just yet. Regardless of whether the patent infringement case has merit, Word is not going to go away. Here are 5 reasons that Microsoft Word will survive the patent challenge:
1. The i4i patent is vague. Have you seen the patent in question? The actual patent is attached as Exhibit A to the original court papers filed by i4i. The title of the patent is Method and System for Manipulating the Architecture and the Content of a Document Separately from Each Other. That sounds like XML. Like many patents from the Internet era, the wording seems very broad and the patent seems indicative of problems the United States Patent Office needs to address regarding awarding vague patents.
The overall concept seems to be a more direct challenge for XML than for Microsoft Word, but XML is an open-source standard and Microsoft is a monolith of capitalism with deep pockets. Microsoft is using XML in an effort to make the Microsoft Office file formats more open and standardized, but they didn’t develop XML.
2. Microsoft has its own patent. Microsoft was awarded Patent 7,571,169 earlier this year. The patent, titled Word-processing document stored in a single XML file that may be manipulated by applications that understand XML, is more directly related to the Microsoft Word file format and the relationship between Microsoft Word and the open source XML standard.
It is very possible, or even likely, that Microsoft filed the patent in response to the legal challenge from i4i. But, Microsoft’s patent basically illustrates the difference between the vague wording of the i4i patent which may conflict with the way XML works, and the actual relationship between Microsoft Word and XML.
3. They can settle. Microsoft does have deep pockets. It is no stranger to litigation and has probably worked ‘daily legal fines pending final decision’ into the operating budget. The judgment of $290 million plus $21,102 per day is not even pocket change- it’s more like when you see a penny on the ground but you don’t pick it up because the pocket change isn’t worth the effort. The judgment only give Microsoft 60 days to cease sales of Microsoft Word pending a decision, but that gives Microsoft 60 days to test the waters with their appeals efforts and ultimately to sit down with i4i and agree on a settlement figure to end the legal battle.
4. Microsoft can just buy i4i. That assumes that i4i is willing to be bought. The point is that i4i is a small development company- the kind of thing that Microsoft buys and assimilates into the Redmond Borg collective on a regular basis. Prior to the judgment in this case Microsoft could have probably purchased i4i outright for less than $200 million.
5. Word is ‘too big to fail’. The United States Supreme Court has ruled previously that injunctions are generally not a reasonable consequence in a patent challenge. But, assuming for a moment that an injunction was reasonable in some cases, Word is too big to fail. Remember when President Ronald Reagan pulled rank on labor law and ordered air traffic controllers to end their strike because of the impact on the national economy and infrastructure? Perhaps the more recent example of the United States government intervening in an injunction against RIM Blackberry comes to mind?
Word is a dominant application for consumers and businesses around the world. Granted, we could probably survive using the copies already sold and installed. But, corporations and government agencies are always in some state of application refresh and deployment and a ban on sales Word would have a definite global impact.
Regardless, I don’t think we need to panic and have a run on Microsoft Office just to stock up. Microsoft will ultimately prevail one way or another. It may win on appeal. It may settle. Word will live on.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com