A federal appeals court has ordered Microsoft to strip custom XML support from Word 2007 by January 11, effectively banning the sale of Microsoft Word and Office (which includes the Word software) in their current form.
The injunction stems from a patent infringement lawsuit filed by the small Canadian firm i4i in 2007. The suit claims i4i owns the custom XML editing technology that is included in Microsoft Word.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas agreed, slapping Microsoft with a $290 million fine and ordering it to remove custom XML capabilities or stop selling the infringing software.
Microsoft appealed, but the lower court's ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. And now the software giant has precious little time to re-release Word and Office 2007 before being barred from selling the profitable office software.
In a statement issued yesterday, Microsoft's Director of Public Affairs Kevin Kutz expressed confidence in the company's ability to meet the injunction date.
With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products. Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date. In addition, the beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010, which are available now for downloading, do not contain the technology covered by the injunction.
While speaking with Stuart J. Johnston at Datamation Microsoft analyst Rob Enderle admits the ruling "shows the increasing hostility of this market," before adding, "For Microsoft, I think it's going to be an increasingly expensive way to do business, with a lot more patent vetting."
Regardless of whether new versions of Office 2007 will appear in time to meet demand, this significant legal decision will only further the cutthroat approach technology companies apply to protect their patents.