Microsoft Must Change Word Or Stop Selling It

A federal appeals court has ordered Microsoft to remove custom XML functionality from any copies of Word 2007 that go on sale after January 11th. The ruling struck down Microsoft’s appeal of an earlier verdict that technology used in Office 2007 originated with the Canadian company i4i Software.

“With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction,” the company said in a statement.

“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,” Microsoft said.

The offending technology has reportedly been removed from the upcoming Office 2010.

Microsoft Word Sales Face U.S. Ban [Information Week]

Judge Tells Microsoft It Can’t Sell Word In U.S.


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  1. says:

    Ha, that can’t be good.

  2. MyTQuinn says:

    For some reason I get a smile on my face whenever I hear of Microsoft losing a dispute.

    • cmdr.sass says:

      Does your knee start jerking wildly, too?

    • dreamcatcher2 says:

      Not me. This just reminds me of how anti-innovation the software industry is.

      • dreamcatcher2 says:

        Sorry, meant to say “the software patent system” not “the software industry”.

        Problem is, how will we get Congress to review the patent system when they are tied up in filibusters regarding health care and other much more important issues?

        • XTC46 says:

          sounds like the patent system is working properly. A company has a patent on a specific method of accomplishing a goal, they discovered the method, and worked to get it working, why should they not be paid for it?

          I love MS, I have tons of Micorosft Certifications, and my knowledge in their products earn me a living, but if they are using somone elses tool, they need to pay for it.

          • masso says:

            No, you shouldn’t be glad Microsoft lose this one. The patent was stupid. If I remember correctly, It basically forbids anyone to integrate XML functionality into a document. It’s not method. This case is very screwed up.

            • Gmork says:

              THIS^ They basically said that you can’t edit XML in Word…Can you imagine not being able to write HTML or some other basic language because a patent troll ran out and filed a piece of paper?

            • Paladin_11 says:

              Er, no. The patent number in question is 5,787,449. It’s as valid as any other software patent. I suggest looking it up. USPTO has it available online.

              The problem is that Microsoft algorithms for custom XML generation is the same as i4i’s. Had they implemented things differently this would not have been a problem. Given Microsoft’s heavy handedness in dealing with their own patent portfolio (Linux anyone?) and potential infringement there’s more than a little delicious schadenfreude here.

              • johnva says:

                “as valid as any other software patent”: you mean, extremely obvious, very close to a number of preexisting technologies, and not very original. I agree, most software patents are total garbage, just like this one.

                • Paladin_11 says:

                  Why yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I chose those words intentionally. Software patents are bad. But we have them, and Microsoft uses them to abuse others. So I don’t care one bit that their chickens have now come home to roost.

          • Dondegroovily says:

            Software patents are like the non-existent fiction patent. If we had fiction patents, some ancient author would own a patent on an old wise wizard with a long beard and J R R Tolkien and J K Rowling couldn’t put such a character into there books without permission of that original author.

            The most infamous software patent is Amazon’s patent on ordering with one click. Yes, that has a patent. This does not encourage innovation, it stifles competition.

          • JamieSueAustin says:

            just curious… what happens when someone (unknowingly) comes up with an idea that is otherwise under patent? I mean, if both persons come of with the same idea independently of each other does it really come down to who got to the patent office faster?

            • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

              yes. see “thomas alva edison”

              • johnva says:

                Software patents are far worse than that. They were created long after people had been creating software for decades. So tons of greedy people started taking them out for things that had been invented by other people and in common use long before.

              • xredgambit says:

                Just make sure if you go to destroy something he made, but never released, to not leave you auto-hammer behind.

            • Daemon Xar says:

              That’s a slight oversimplification, but essentially true.

          • Shadowman615 says:

            This is an obvious patent-squatting case. i4i did not develop or discover anything. They simply registered a patent with the purpose of seeking a payout.

    • 2 replies says:

      Because of some random Canadian company was so patent greedy that your Office 2007 XML docs won’t be forwards compatible with future versions?
      That makes you happy?

      Sounds to me like someone just has irrational hatred based solely on a brand name.
      That in itself is utterly retarded.

    • P_Smith says:

      For some reason I just can’t be surprised to hear Microshaft stole an idea or piece of software from someone else and made money from it.

    • Daemon Xar says:

      I had the same reaction until I read the court opinions and appeal briefs. TERRIBLE decision.

  3. G.O.B.: Come on! says:

    All they have to do is remove the code; which they will do. It doesn’t look like it’ll affect Word at all.

    • fantomesq says:

      I’m not convinced of that. They’ll be stripping Word of XML support which my understanding is that it won’t support the .docx file format – which is the default format for the newer versions of Word… I see major compatibility headaches coming…

      Just because Microsoft will be able to continue shipping Word doesn’t mean the changes won’t be headaches for the rest of us.

  4. conscious says:

    i4i’s office is here in Toronto on the 5th floor of a basic office building in Chinatown. I’m guessing an extra 290mil will allow for an upgrade, and possibly a website that looks like it’s from the 2000s.

    • RandomZero says:

      And maybe – if they really stretch their dollars – a “corporate presentation” that isn’t just a raw link to a PowerPoint file.

  5. JediJohn82 says:

    Can somebody explain the difference between regular XML and custom-xml? I don’t get how an open standard can have a patent on it.

    • Coles_Law says:

      That’s my concern. If i4i has a method of implementation that’s unique and for sale, fine. if they just patented an idea with no means of developing it, not so much.

      • Aphex242 says:

        …and that’s exactly why patent law is so jacked up.

      • Paladin_11 says:

        They have been selling this product for years. In fact, they sold a plug-in for Word that embeded the custom XML into Word documents years ago. It’s this implementation that i4i alleges Microsoft stole/copied, and apparently the courts agree. By all accounts Microsoft is in the wrong here. They should just pay up or remove the offending code–which they have done for Office 2010.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      I could be wrong, as I’m not an expert in the field, but this isn’t patenting the open-source system, but a particular means of handling the data generated within the open-source system. Microsoft copied their method, and that method was patented.

    • Hitchcock says:

      Lots of open standards actually have patents on them. Normally the parties basically agree not to enforce their patents on people using the standard. What happens a lot of time though is a standard is built, and no one knows that someone has already patented something that will be part of the standard. Then a few days/months/years after the standard has been out, a patent holder comes out and says “Hey, your open standard does thing that I’ve patented and now everyone has to pay.”.

      Check out WiFi. Years after WiFi became standard, numerous companies, including a holding company run by the government of Australia, started suing any mfgr that included any flavor of WiFi in a device.

      Unlike Trademark which must be defended or lost, the patent system allows you to basically sit quietly on your patent while others start using it, then once its widely adopted you can jump out and start suing.

  6. Communist Pope says:

    I wasn’t a big fan of the incompatible-with-earlier-versions-of-Office .docx, .xlsx, etc., so this is like an early Xmas present. Kind of hope they put out an update to remove said functionality for current owners of Office 2007, but I’m not counting on it. At least you have the option to save it as an earlier Office doc type.

    • johnva says:

      I would much prefer a documented XML file format to an undocumented binary file format, myself. Compatibility-wise, the former would actually be far superior.

      • Megalomania says:

        oh no, .doc IS documented. But the spec is insanely complicated because it grew for well over a decade, encompassing new features and amazingly maintaining full backwards compatibility. it had to change a little every time a new feature was added into Word, and since computers were entirely different when it was first written it has all these insane little optimizations that are utterly useless right now (for instance – hard drives were way slower so regardless of where you changed a document, it would append changes to the end of the file so that it wouldn’t have to rewrite the entire thing).

        You can download the whole thing here:

        • johnva says:

          Ahh, I see that they released it in 2008. Thanks for the updated info.

          So, I’ll revise my comments to say that I would prefer an XML format over some monstrous binary format that was cobbled together in the name of maintaining backwards compatibility over a long period of time and that contains numerous obsolete optimizations and “features”. Who wants to support something that is developed in that way, if you’re working as a third-party developer and don’t control the format?

      • Megalomania says:

        oh no, .doc IS documented. But the spec is insanely complicated because it grew for over a decade, encompassing new features and amazingly maintaining full backwards compatibility. it had to change a little every time a new feature was added into Word, and since computers were entirely different when it was first written it has all these insane little optimizations that are utterly useless right now (for instance – hard drives were way slower so regardless of where you changed a document, it would append changes to the end of the file so that it wouldn’t have to rewrite the entire thing).

        You can download the whole thing here:

    • Michael Belisle says:

      I hate to break it to you, but the .*x file types aren’t going away. They’re still the future. But if you want the ability to include Custom XML schema in Word (which 99.9% of the population doesn’t), you’ll have to buy i4i’s product.

    • atrixe says:

      I work in the field of software training and support* and as a result have gotten to know all the nooks and crannies of Office 2007. I think that the benefits of the newer XML file types far outweigh the disadvantages. Every day I speak to clients who complain about compatibility issues, and I have found that most of them have a wildly exaggerated viewpoint of the actual problems.

      Can Excel 2003 natively open an .XLSX file? No, but that can be easily remedied by installing either the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack if you have a PC, or the Open XML File Format Converter if you have a Mac. If you just need to view a file, and not edit it, then install the appropriate Microsoft Office 2007 Viewer.

      There are some things that will look a little different when opened in earlier versions of Office {like colours, SmartArt, Themes, shape effects, etc}, but more often than not, the results are more than acceptable. Yes, there are certain Office 2007 features that cannot be addressed with the compatibility packs. A good example would be an Excel workbook that contains data in more than 65,536 rows/256 columns or one of the new functions such as AVERAGEIFS. IMHO, if you’ve got that many rows of data, you really ought to consider using a database application instead. The function issue can be remedied with a macro that adds them as user defined functions in previous versions {if anyone wants a copy of it let me know}.

      If it’s a pain to do Save As to an earlier format for every file, just go into the application options and change the default file format. Or, if you know that a file will need to be backwards compatible and you have not yet created it, then let me introduce you to Compatibility Mode. Create a new blank file, save it as an old format and then add your content. This is especially useful if you will be creating adding charts or diagrams to your file. I could go on forever, but there’s a lot of good information about this floating around on the internet.

      To get back on topic, there are some cool perks to the XML formats such as:
      {1} Smaller file size – I’ve seen 50%+ reductions in size compared to an identical copy saved using an old format.

      {2} Increased file stability and improved recovery for corrupt file – Often files become corrupted through no fault of the user, but user error damages files more often than you might think. At work, I constantly deal with people who are in tears because their PowerPoint file is corrupt and they have to give the presentation in 15 minutes. I cannot even begin to estimate how many of those people did something stupid like pulling out the USB flash drive that contains the file while the file is open. I understand that not everyone is as tech-savvy as I am, and I can kind of understand why someone might not properly eject an external storage device in general, but while the file is open? *sigh*

      In these cases, I have an arsenal of tools and methods for repair, but the process is made much easier if it is an XML file. If you have an ’07 file and want to see something cool, duplicate it {so you don’t destroy your only copy!} and follow the instructions here. Quite often I can delete one of the XML parts to fix corrupted files. Most of the time the part I need to delete does adversely affect the document in any way.

      {3} Efficient Modifications – The same concepts behind #2 apply here. Microsoft has a few example scenarios to explain this here. In short, the new container makes for easy changes to document properties, swapping out and/or extracting embedded media, applying themes, etc. Especially if you want to do a batch all at once.

      It is pretty rare for me to defend Microsoft, but while I do think that there are legitimate problems with the XML formats, it is a feature that has made my job much easier and I think it is a positive step forward.

      I could seriously go on forever… Sorry for such a long comment but hopefully this information will help someone.

      *No, I am not a Microsoft employee!

      • RandomZero says:

        Obviously, you’re intimately familiar with the product in question. I am not. A question, then: Does Word actually allow you to edit the XML itself completely separately from the document body? (ie, does it or can it at some point break a complete document into two separate files – the document text, and the XML code with a map of where to insert it?) Interestingly, that’s what’s actually covered in the patent, complete with specific reference to the original file being unnecessary once you have the two separated ones.

  7. johnva says:

    Software patents are pretty much just totally idiotic. I have trouble believing that the idea of patenting software originated with anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how software development works. Either that, or it was someone trying to intentionally screw over the entire software industry outside of the few companies rich enough to win the software patents arms race.

    If we’re going to grant patents for software, the innovation bar that needs to be passed before they are granted needs to be like 100x higher than what we’ve seen. Otherwise you’re just letting people monopolize all kinds of “inventions” that any sort of decent programmer would find obvious.

    • DrLumen says:

      IMS, that would be Bill Gates that started patenting software.

      I can understand it if it were a proprietary system but with PC based software and considering the number of people that can potentially develop software, I agree with you 100%. What’s the saying about 100 monkeys? How about possibly 6 billion?

  8. explosiva says:

    If I were the court, I’d say, “Screw the patent infringement. You should stop selling Office 2007 because it’s got a horrid UI. Such drastic change in UI for the worse cost the world economy $1 quadrillion since 2007’s rollout!”

  9. That's Consumer007 to you says:

    I so want to see YouTube video of Ballmer throwing a temper tantrum over this and firing people lol

  10. Xmar says:

    East Texas Federal district. That particular district is renowned for siding with just about anyone that claims patent infringement. They get so much patent infringement business there that they are building a courthouse to process only patent infringement cases.

    I’m not saying that i4i is in the right or wrong. Its just that when someone mentions ‘patent case’ & ‘East Texas district’… I get the same reaction that most internet savvy people get when someone says ‘Ebay’ & ‘Nigeria’.

  11. hungryhomer says:

    I never liked that ‘.docx’ extension; that ‘x’ looked like it had something to hide, all tacked on at the end there. Finally, my suspicions have been vindicated.

  12. ZeGoggles says:

    Could Microsoft legally insert wording into the EULA after January 11 that says “Anyone may use our Microsoft Office suite…………..except i4i. Suckers. Shouldn’t have filed that suit”?

    Just curious.

  13. says:

    These embarrassing situations are quite unpredictable for Microsoft and for the people like us who are immensely benefited from its every day’s outcome. We hope Microsoft will definitely overcome this stumbling block.

  14. Smiley says:

    I am so sick of Microsucks already… today I spent 2 hours on the phone with our help desk trying to fix another outlook issue for the 4th time in 3 months..reminds me of RIM and their outages..Calgon take me away!

  15. [DFX] Deimos says:

    What a joke of a ruling. XML is, by it’s very nature, eXtensible and customizable. Therefore the open nature of XML should preclude any patenting of “custom” XML.

    This ruling should, and I believe will, be overturned on appeal.

  16. RavenWarrior says:

    This, my friends, is why I use OpenOffice.

  17. CapitalC says:

    I wonder if this was why most Canadian retailers are hocking the Student & Teacher edition for $70 this Boxing Week…