Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word

By  |  Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 1:54 am

Jailed WordIn the latest apparent case of the U.S. patent system run amok, Judge Leonard Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction on Tuesday preventing Microsoft from selling versions of Word that handle custom XML in the form of the .DOCX, .DOCM, and .XML file formats. Which would mean that Microsoft is now forbidden from selling Word 2003 or Word 2007. And since it also forbids Microsoft from testing such versions of Word, there would seem to be implications for Office 2010 as well.

The ruling responds to a suit brought by Toronto-based document management company i4i in 2007. Microsoft says it’ll appeal the ruling, which appears to require it to pay a total of $277 million to i4i.

I stuck an “apparent” in the first sentence of this story because I believe in the idea of patents, acknowledge that I’m not a patent attorney, and am willing to accept the possibility that a product like Word could indeed indeed violate a small company’s patent even though its removal from the market would cause massive headaches for millions of folks who didn’t violate anybody’s intellectual property. But the 1998 patent in question appears to be exceptionally broad, and XML is an open standard; if a company can prevent Microsoft from selling a word processor that uses customized XML to store documents, you gotta wonder if the company could use the precedent to kill off XML, period. Which would be simply nutty.

Of course, Word isn’t going away–not any more than BlackBerries vanished from the market as a result of the endless patent dispute between RIM and patent firm NTP earlier this decade. Microsoft has a 60-day window before sales must stop, and it could come up with any of a number of possible Hail Marys to resolve things–in fact, Computerworld’s take is that sales aren’t going to end at all. If Judge Davis’s ruling somehow sticks all the way to the Supreme Court, Microsoft would sign, grumble, and pay i4i a few cubic acres of cash to put the lawsuit behind it. (Actually, it would surely do a deal earlier in the process, and that’s presumably the outcome that i41 is hoping for.) That’s assuming that Microsoft can’t somehow rejigger Word or its file formats to preserve functionality and compatibility without patent problems; given that the suit was filed in 2007, it’s had plenty of time to work on that technical challenge.

In the short term, though, even a brief period of suspended Word sales is going to present massive hassles for vast numbers of businesses and consumers. What everybody’s going to do, I’m not sure–older versions of Word would XML capability wouldn’t be taboo I guess, nor would a version of Word 2007 with the XML features turned off. I don’t know enough about this stuff to know if WordPerfect and OpenOffice (both of which use XML) are at legal risk.

Me, I have a paid-for copy of Word 2007 and do much of my wordslinging in Google Docs and WordPress these days anyhow. But if PowerPoint (which also uses XML) is pulled off the market, I’ll panic…


Read more: , , ,

9 Comments For This Post

  1. Ralph Friedman Says:

    Keep in mind that the suit was probably filed in the Eastern District of Texas because that court has a well-earned reputation for bending over backwards for the plaintiffs in patent suits. It might be an interesting exercise to see how many of its decisions have held up on appeal.


  2. Disputatore Says:

    Well, I guess the idea of software patents is less appealing now, hu Microsoft? The truth is that software patents are very tricky and lots of such patents shouldn’t ever have been accepted by the Patent Offices.

  3. Tim Robertson Says:

    So in effect, this judge wants Microsoft to kill Word. Why is Texas so high on courtroom death sentences? Kinda morbid…

  4. Ranjith Says:

    Free Software Wins ..!! Use Open Standard. Use Open Office.

  5. shawnhcorey Says:

    Actually, Word is going away and probably sooner than you think. Rather than having countless versions of a document chasing itself around the company via email, some are turning to Wikis instead. The advantages of Wikis are:

    * The latest version is always available. So rather than requesting the latest version from the author, who is in an all-day meeting that won’t be done until 5:30 and you must today, of all days, pick up your kids at 5:00 (which is why you came in at 7:30), you simply go to the Wiki and get it.

    * Wikis have built-in version control. Meaning if you don’t like the changes, you can restore an older version instantly.

    * Wikis can be backup’ed by your IT department rather than hoping the individual authors backup the documents themselves (and if you believe that works, I have a bridge to sell you).

    The biggest problem with Wikis is that their editors suck. But they’re working on that. When the editors become comparable to Wordpad, you’re going to see companies abandoning Word with great fervour.

  6. tom b Says:

    I can’t speak to the legalities, but DOCX has caused me some headaches. I get a document in DOCX, I can’t tread it: I can’t read it in iWork; I can’t read it in NeoOffice. I can read “Doc” in either app. The annoying thing is it’s the default format in Word. Normally, I chalk up an incompatible format change for a software vendor to plain old stupidity, but when MSFT is involved, it always looks like there’s malice involved.

  7. NanoGeek Says:

    @Tim Robertson

    Let’s not drag this post off topic please?
    Everyone knows that the Eastern District of Texas always sides with the patent holders no matter what.

  8. Kevin Says:

    For all you DOC file format advocates: DOCX has smaller file sizes, retains better image quality, and has a lot more features formatting-wise. I like it. For sharing files with people, I give them a PDF or tell them to download Microsoft’s free Word Viewer.

  9. Mike Says:

    in the picture are the bars in the jail made of wood?

12 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Microsoft Word's 60 Day Ultimatum - Play Things Says:

    […] firm. i4i claims that it holds a patent for the editing of "custom XML, " and the judgement prohibits Microsoft from "selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Wor…. Microsoft itself has been dabbling in patenting the editing of the open XML standard, so this […]

  2. So What’s the State of the Patent System? | Technologizer Says:

    […] all:&nbspT-Poll I’m not going to ask you to render a verdict in yesterday’s court case that involved a Texas judge telling Microsoft it’s not allowed to…. Judgments on particular cases are most pertinent when they’re made by people who have read […]

  3. StealthCereal | “Judge: Microsoft Banned from Selling Word in the US” and related posts Says:

    […] Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word – Technologizer […]

  4. Strange To Say: Microsoft Banned For Selling Word In US | TechDusts Says:

    […] Technologizer: Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word  by Harry McCracken […]

  5. StealthCereal | “Microsoft forbidden from selling Word, will probably keep selling Word” and related posts Says:

    […] Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word – Technologizer […]

  6. Top USA News » “Microsoft forbidden from selling Word, will probably keep selling Word” and related posts Says:

    […] Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word – Technologizer […]

  7. Top Stories – 43th Says:

    […] Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word – Technologizer […]

  8. Microsoft é proibida de comercializar o Word nos EUA « Geeknologia – Jornalismo Digital e uma pitada de nerdice Says:

    […] de busca Microsoft é proibida de comercializar o Word nos EUA Agosto 13, 2009 Do Technologizer – Em decisão polêmica, o juiz Leonard Davis (Corte dos EUA, distrito leste do Texas) promulgou […]

  9. Microsoft Office 2007 Product Keys - InWarez Says:

    […]   #4 (permalink) Posted Today, 08:10 PM Nice Post. Did You Know That Microsoft Is Getting sued And Word Is Being Taking Off The Self's From Being Sold? Read It Here. Court Bans Microsoft From Selling Word|Technologizer […]

  10. - » Blog Archive » Reaction to the Microsoft Word ruling Says:

    […] little surprised the other day upon learning that Microsoft had been enjoined by a court ruling to stop selling Microsoft Word. At first I thought I read it wrong. That would be like a court prohibiting McDonald’s from […]

  11. مدونة دعمك للمصادر المفتوحة » أرشيف المدونة » القضاء الأمريكي يمنع بيع مايكروسوفت وورد القضاء الأمريكي يمنع بيع مايكروسوفت وورد Says:

    […] شهر من ألان تم منع بيع مايكروسوفت وورد بحكم من القضاء الأمريكي بعد أن انتهكت  براءات شركة i4i […]

  12. GeekArab » Blog Archive » القضاء الأمريكي يمنع بيع مايكروسوفت وورد Says:

    […] شهر من ألان تم منع بيع مايكروسوفت وورد بحكم من القضاء الأمريكي بعد أن انتهكت  براءات شركة i4i […]