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Microsoft loses Word XML lawsuit, strips feature

Microsoft loses Word XML lawsuit, strips feature

Losing a patent suit to Canadian software maker i4i Inc., Microsoft has been banned from selling copies of Microsoft Word containing the plaintiff’s custom XML element technology as of January, 2010.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the ruling from the appeals court which upheld the lower court’s decision in its entirety. This is both a vindication for i4i and a war cry for talented inventors whose patents are infringed,” said i4i chairman Loudon Owen in a statement.

“The same guts and integrity that are needed to invent and go against the herd, are at the heart of success in patent litigation against a behemoth like Microsoft. Congratulations to our entire team who provided such dynamic leadership, courage and tenacity!”

The recent win for i4i orders Microsoft to pay $290 million in damages, as well as to comply with an injunction which prevents the firm after December 31, 2009 from selling copies of Office 2003 and Office 2007 that offer users the ability to customize XML elements. Microsoft has additionally been ordered to remove the functionality from its upcoming Office 2010 suite.

The ruling comes nearly three years after i4i Inc. filed a suit against Microsoft alleging patent infringement on patent number 5,787,449, which details a, “computer system for the manipulation of the architecture and content of a document having a plurality of metacodes and content by producing a first map of metacodes and their addresses of use in association with mapped content.”

In other words, a document which has had its structure electronically encoded via eXtensible Markup Language (XML), the very same technology used in Microsoft’s .DOCX file types. The patent further specifies the ability to modify the XML markup to customize the presentation of the document, and that is the feature which has been banned from Word by the ruling.

In response, Microsoft has moved to deploy a patch which removes the offending feature from the affected copies of Office in the United States. As it is not necessary to back-fix copies of Word which have already been sold, the patch is only for OEMs which must patch new machines to comply.

“After this patch is installed, Word will no longer read the Custom XML elements contained within DOCX, DOCM, or XML files,” Microsoft says. “These files will continue to open, but any Custom XML elements will be removed. The ability to handle custom XML markup is typically used in association with automated server based processing of Word documents. Custom XML is not typically used by most end users of Word.”

In the interim, Microsoft appears to be considering its options, which may include a rehearing or a writ from the US Supreme Court.


  1. chrisWhite
    chrisWhite Thrax, what do you think of this whole ordeal? Was it a fair decision by the judges?
  2. Snarkasm
    Snarkasm It's pretty black and white, really. Their implementation was a clear copy of somebody else's patented implementation, so it's out. Just pay the license and move on.
  3. septimus I'm glad Microsoft is removing this feature and is paying the price for introducing it.
  4. Thrax
    Snarkasm wrote:
    It's pretty black and white, really. Their implementation was a clear copy of somebody else's patented implementation, so it's out. Just pay the license and move on.

    That's what I think. A court has decided.
  5. kryyst
    kryyst Now if only the ruling forced Office 2007 to default to save into office 2003 format I'd be happy.
  6. Tom The ruling is crap. Patenting "custom XML" is like patenting drinking glasses. Once again, a court has handed down a ruling on something it doesn't understand--if it did, it would invalidate the patent.
  7. Jim As has been stated many times before, the patent system is broken. This is just another example of how broken it is. That i4i was granted a patent for custom XML is pretty ridiculous.
  8. Snarkasm
    Snarkasm They were granted a patent for a specific implementation of an XML rendering algorithm. It's about as inoffensive as you can get with software patents. They did exactly what it was meant to do - protect specific implementations. It's not like they patented "decoding XML" - they patented their method.

    There are plenty of reasons to get prickly about the patent system, but this isn't one of them.
  9. LNX Whatever, i4i just needed some money from Microsoft (and willing to be bought by); the funny thing is that they target ms office with stuff they do. Their corporate presentation is PowerPoint for the love of peter. So now instead of having office doing "these little used" features, you have to go and pay i4i for them when they have nothing to do with the way things are done within office. Just like that patent about using 3D in games, yes, not shaders or algorithms, just using 3D. I'm filing a patent for using images in WebPages then... that is bull...
  10. ardichoke
    ardichoke Wow... the guests are feeling pretty special today. Perhaps you people should actually do a bit of research before you spout off at the mouth. Microsoft stole a specific implementation for their product. That implementation was patented. They deserved what they got. Sure, there are plenty of abuses of software patents (see: Apple copyrighting the whole concept of a multitouch interface) but this is not one of them. Microsoft could have written their own code to generate XML and they would have been just fine, instead they chose to rip off a pre-existing and patented implementation and they got nabbed for it.

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