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30 November 2010, 12:59

Microsoft patent challenge heads to Supreme Court

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Scales Logo The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear and decide Microsoft's patent challenge case against i4i by June of 2011. Microsoft vs i4i Ltd focuses on patents related to editing documents containing mark-up languages like XML – Microsoft Word had XML editing capabilities. i4i originally sued Microsoft for infringing a patent it held on a method for manipulating the architecture and content of a document separately from each other.

Previously, i4i won the case in the US Federal courts, but Microsoft appealed on the basis that the standard of proof required to invalidate a patent is far higher than that required by a court to rule infringement has taken place. Although not directly related to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), if Microsoft is successful in the case, it could signal a change in patent law that would make it far easier for companies to defend patent infringement cases on the basis of prior art which had not been looked at by the patent examiner when the patent was granted.

The case is already being supported by a number of pro-FOSS organisations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Public Knowledge, the CCIA (Computer and Communications Industry Association) and the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). The EFF says that "A Microsoft win in the case would benefit not only Microsoft, but also the free and open source software community", adding that it is "pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Microsoft’s petition, and hope that this case will help to level the patent playing field".

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