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8/13/2009
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MS Word Ban: Microsoft Knew Of Rival

E-mail shows Redmond was aware of i4i's XML technology and planned to make it "obsolete."

Microsoft officials developing versions of Word that will be banned for sale in sixty days unless the company settles a patent lawsuit or wins an appeal were aware of the plaintiff's product and threatened to make it "obsolete," e-mail records connected to the case reveal.

"We saw [i4i's products] some time ago and met its creators. Word 11 will make it obsolete," said Martin Sawicki, a member of Microsoft's XML for Word development team, in an e-mail to a colleague. "It looks great for XP though," wrote Sawicki, according to court records.

The e-mail was undated, but likely was written sometime before Word 11, part of Microsoft Office 2003, shipped six years ago.

i4i sued Microsoft for patent infringement in 2007, claiming that the XML editor in Word 2003 and Word 2007 violated its patent on such technology. Judge Leonard Davis, of U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas, on Tuesday ruled in favor of i4i.

Davis ordered Microsoft to pay Toronto-based i4i more than $240 million in damages, plus additional penalties totaling over $40 million. Davis also banned Microsoft from sellijng Word 2003 or Word 2007 in the U.S. The order, if upheld, will take effect in sixty days.

Davis left a potential out for Microsoft. He noted that the infringing aspect of Word is the program's ability to open and read documents that contain custom XML—a form of the Extensible Markup Language format that businesses create to forge links between their back office data and PC applications like Microsoft Word.

Davis said any version of Word that opens documents in plain text only, or which strips a document of custom XML through a process known as a transform, would be free from his order. That leaves the door open for Microsoft to issue a patch that alters MS Word's functionality in such a way as to circumvent the ban.

Microsoft's first course of action, however, will likely be to appeal Davis' order.

"We are disappointed by the court's ruling. We believe the evidence clearly demonstrated that we do not infringe and that the i4i patent is invalid. We will appeal the verdict," a company spoke told InformationWeek, in an e-mail Wednesday.

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