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Microsoft downplays impact of possible Supreme Court patent ruling

Gregg Keizer, Computerworld | April 19, 2011
The attorney who argued Microsoft's case before the Supreme Court Monday downplayed the impact on patent law if the jurists rule for the company.

Not surprisingly, i4i sees a ruling in Microsoft's favor very differently.

"It would mean a massive change in the established law, and be extremely detrimental to innovators and inventors," said Loudon Owen, the chairman of i4i, in an interview yesterday. "It would be a bad idea right across the spectrum."

In a conversation with the IDG News Service after the oral hearing, Owen said a move to the lesser standard would be "devastating" to inventors.

"What Microsoft is looking to do is completely disrupt the patent system we have today," Owen said.

Outside observers were hesitant to predict how significant the impact would be if the Supreme Court voted in favor of Microsoft. But it would make it easier for companies accused of patent infringement to dodge the bullet, said Steve Chang, a Washington D.C. attorney with Banner & Witcoff who specializes in patent litigation and sat in on the hearing.

"If it was a simple preponderance of evidence standard, that would immediately make it easier for defendants to challenge the validity of a patent in District Court," said Chang. "But that doesn't mean they would automatically win."

The case before the Supreme Court stemmed from a 2007 lawsuit filed by i4i that charged Microsoft with infringing a patent for custom XML tagging technology. i4i alleged that Microsoft used the technology in its popular Word software.

In 2009, a federal jury awarded i4i nearly $300 million in damages, and told Microsoft to stop selling Word. The injunction was later suspended for several months, giving Microsoft time to modify Word. In January 2010, the company shipped an update to Word 2007 that removed the infringing technology.

The verdict was later upheld by a federal appellate court.


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