back to article Supremes to hear Microsoft's Word appeal

America's top court will hear Microsoft defend claims that its Word software infringed on patens held by software maker i4i. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear Microsoft's appeal against a 2009 court order that it must pay i4i $290m for infringements of patents by Word. A decision …


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  1. Ted Treen

    Misleading Headline...

    I pictured Ballmer leaping around a stage in the presence of Diana Ross & co.

    It quite put me off my cocoa & chocolate hobnob.

    1. The Real Tony Smith


      I'm sending you the bill for getting my cocoa and hobnobs out of my keyboard!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    after it had partnered $(company_name) on $(product_name)

    "Redmond only started work on custom XML in Word after it had partnered i4i on Office."

    Will these poor folks never learn? To deal with MS at that kind of level is to sign your business away. Not my opinion, that of Stac in the days of DOS 6, and many other victims since

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I guess that once they've heard the appeal

    they'll think it o-o-over

  4. Michael C


    A case with a questionable ruling and massive fine that the Supremes can use to weigh in on patent issues like this.

    Reading the patent details, and the way Microsoft "infringed" I don;t see how it even got this far, unless it was intentional to simply get a good case to this level with good media attention. What Microsoft is doing with XML in this case is really simple, placing one document inside of an XML record using an optional (but documented) XML field. What i4i argued they did was something slightly different (with the same end result of getting one document inside of another) but Microsoft did not actually do that, since doing that is done in SGML, not XML, which needed no such construct. The use of XML this way is obvious, and thus the patent should not apply. the USPTO did agree, when applied to SGML (as the patent describes) it is a valid patent. The courts decided it should also apply to XML, even though its not using the process the same way i4i detailed it, and even though XML is itself what should be targeted if it was in fact infringing.

    this should be a good show. hopefully shed a lot of light on patents, especially software patents.

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  6. Tom 35 Silver badge

    critical to the integrity of our patent system

    Did they actually say that with a straight face?

  7. Someone Else Silver badge


    The the Corporatists on the court (Roberts, Alito, et al) a nice chance to further the damage done by their Citizens United decision, by allowing a fatass corproate darling the chance to stomp all over any pesky smaller companies that really do something innovative.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge


      What did i4i do in this case that was "really innovative"? Or indeed innovative at all, and not completely obvious to any skilled practitioner with relevant area knowledge?

      Software patents are usually bogus, and this one looks no different.

      Often there is hard work involved in implementing a technique in software. It's often a shame when the result of a small organization's hard work is duplicated by a large organization with more resources to throw at the problem and a bigger market presence. But patent law does not exist to protect hard work; it exists to protect innovation. If the technique being implemented is obvious (however difficult), then it doesn't meet the (theoretical) standard for patent protection.

      Sure, this is a weakness in US IP law, favoring established players. Software patents are meant to protect innovative ideas (and it's arguable whether they should even do that), not simply the introduction of new features. It's infeasible to use trade secret protection for software that's distributed to end users. Copyright only protects a particular implementation. There's no legal basis for ensuring a temporary monopoly just for creating an improved software product. That means established players can avoid improving products until threatened by newcomers, at which time they can just duplicate the new features and protect their market share. But them's the breaks, unless and until we can figure out a way to make the system more fair. Patent abuse will not accomplish that.

  8. Goat Jam

    There is only one thing for certain here

    If Microsoft wins this it is proof positive that the patent system is broken and should be dismantled.

    If i4i wins this it is proof positive that the patent system is broken and should be dismantled.

    In the case of the former it will be a clear indication that software patents cannot be upheld because as far as I can tell i4i has an open and shut case under the rules as they stand.

    In the latter, it will show that allowing companies to patent relatively trivial software algorithms does damage to the industry as a whole and should be abolished immediately.

    The thing that is certain? That regardless of what happens software patents will remain and the lawyers will all get new Learjets.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      New Learjets?

      I'd be happy with that - as would hundreds of other people who have to take weeks off unpaid every year until business picks up.

      Sign them up for it please..

  9. CheesyTheClown

    What is custom XML in this context?

    As far as I've been able to track down, this is little more than using custom defined XML (via a xml schema) to extract data from an xml document for insertion into another document.

    So, at lack of a better term, would this be kind of an XML alternative to mail merge? If so, then wouldn't the be 100% identical to using a database schema to reference the fields of a database file? In the case of a Microsoft Access file, the contents of an Access database would be defined using something similar to an "hierarchal schema" and the fields containing the data would be validated against this "hierarchal schema". So in effect, if the Access database format were exported as XML so that the schema of the database were defined as an XML schema and the data were exported as raw XML data?

    So, while I never exported an access database as XML and a schema, wouldn't anyone who has theoretically be in violation of this patent if they use the XML to import the schema and data into another system?

    Now, the XML schema concept was designed specifically for this kind of scenario. After all, you wouldn't need a schema for any other reason than defining the format of XML data and authenticating against it. It exists to allow programs to access data in the XML format described by it.


    1) What is it that is actually patented?

    It seems to me they chose a portion of the XML spec and wrote a patent for it.

    2) Did they actually patent the design of XML by doing this?

    This "custom XML" thing sounds redundant since unless the XML language itself is customizable (like using { and } instead of < and >), then MS hasn't used the language any different than what it was specifically designed and documented for.

    3) What is Microsoft actually violating by using this?

    Is Microsoft using the XML in any specific way that actually is not what the XML schema spec was designed for in the first place?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Except for the fact that...

      i4i patented their thingy before XML was done. XML is merely a smokescreen for patent breaking on Microsoft's part. Note that the patent has been upheld. How Microsoft even got close to the Supreme Court thinking it's a worthwhile thing to look at is perhaps the more interesting story.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Status of the patent proves nothing

        "... the patent has been upheld" - so? The USPTO and US courts have demonstrated on many occasions that they're not qualified to evaluate software patents, so this is worthless as evidence in favor of the patent.

        i4i's patent (5,787,449) was granted in July 1998; the first XML recommendation was published in February 1998. So i4i did not "patent ... before XML was done". They *filed* in 1994, and the first draft published by the W3C XML WG was in 1996; but of course the discussions that led to the W3C's Generic SGML Editorial Review Board and then to the XML WG started before that.

        At best, i4i's patent process started only a short time before public XML discussions.

        And XML itself is just an SGML application profile. SGML is an extensible metadata system, and after a quick read of the 20 claims in the i4i patent, I don't see anything there that's not either in SGML, or an obvious feature of an SGML-based document processing system. Much of it could be traced back to SGML's ancestors, like GML/Script and RUNOFF.

      2. ps2os2

        Supreme Court

        Well it was clear the Republicans got their insiders onto the Supreme Court as there is no other way that Citizens United got their way.

        I will forgive some of the brain dead decisions that the Supreme Court has handed down but this is (like the Dread Scott decision) one for the records. I wonder if it will take a civil war to correct this one?

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Extensible Markup Language...

    by writing custom schemas

    patent troll fail

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