i4i gets injunction against sales of MS Word

A judge on Tuesday ordered Microsoft Corp. to stop selling Microsoft Word products in their current form in the U.S., but legal appeals or technical workarounds make an actual halt of sales unlikely.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas gave Microsoft 60 days to comply with the injunction, which forbids Microsoft from selling Word products that let people create custom XML documents, according to Toronto-based i4i Inc. The ruling, which also includes additional damages Microsoft must pay, are related to a patent infringement suit filed by i4i.

The most common versions of Word on the market now, 2003 and 2007, both allow users to create custom XML documents.

Microsoft did not reply to questions about the effect the injunction will have on it and its ability to sell Word in the U.S. In a statement it said it planned to appeal the verdict.

An appeal could stay the injunction but even if the injunction stands, Microsoft could potentially strip the functionality from Word or possibly build a workaround.

The ruling is unlikely to affect anyone any time soon, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “It’s going to take a long time for this kind of thing to get sorted out,” he said.

Custom XML allows people to create forms or templates such that words in certain fields are tagged and then can be managed in a database, said Loudon Owen, a spokesman for i4i. Large companies and government agencies, for example, might create such templates.

I4i’s patent covers technology that lets end users manipulate document architecture and content.

In a March 2007 suit, i4i charged Microsoft with willfully infringing its patent. Earlier this year, a jury in the Texas court ordered Microsoft to pay i4i US$200 million for infringing the patent.

Owen said that if the injunction stands, end users who use custom XML in Word will have to find another way to create templates. “Hopefully you’re going to call us because our intention is to support custom XML,” he said.

The judge also ruled that Microsoft should pay an additional $40 million for willful infringement of the patents and over $37 million in prejudgment interest. That brings total damages to more than $290 million.

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