Microsoft Files Emergency Motion in Word Verdict

Late Friday, Microsoft filed an emergency motion with the US District Court for Eastern Texas in a bid to block a ruling that could force it to stop selling its dominant Word application in 60 days. Judge Leonard Davis ruled against Microsoft last week, ordering the company to pay about $290 million in fines and stop selling Word, which the judge says infringes on a patent owned by i4i.

The ruling against Microsoft and its Word application has garnered worldwide attention, but legal experts say there's little chance that Microsoft will actually have to stop selling the product. A host of legal and technical workarounds exist, and Microsoft can next begin what could be a lengthy appeals process, which would push out the stop date by a year and a half.

Tiny i4i sued Microsoft in 2007 for infringing on its patent for custom XML, charging that several of the software giant's products—including Word 2007 and 2003, .NET, and Windows Vista—contained functionality that was covered by the patent. However, Judge Davis said that only Word "unlawfully infringed" on the i4i patent. He ordered that Microsoft stop selling Word in its current incarnation within 60 days but didn't require the company to amend versions already in the marketplace.

In a bit of courtroom drama, $40 million of the $290 million in fines was directed at Microsoft's lawyers, who the judge said engaged in trial misconduct. They argued that i4i was a "non-practicing patent owner" and that it was thus "improper" that they sue for monetary damages. The judge also admonished a Microsoft lawyer for "equating i4i's infringement case with the current national banking crisis \[and\] implying that i4i was \[like\] a banker seeking a 'bailout'."

"All these arguments were persistent, legally improper, and in direct violation of the Court's instructions," Davis wrote in his ruling. "Therefore, Microsoft's trial misconduct also supports enhancement."

Microsoft continues to argue that the i4i patent is invalid and that, regardless, Word doesn't infringe on the patent. The company says it will appeal the verdict, but it appears that the emergency motion is a stopgap measure aimed at further lengthening the time between the ruling and the date at which the company would have to actually stop selling Word.

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