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Users of Microsoft’s Office and Access packages have been told they will have to install updates as a result of a patent infringement dispute between Microsoft and a Guatemalan inventor that has cost the software firm almost $9 million in damages.

Analysts warn that many businesses will be hit by the requirement.

The case, which Microsoft lost in June last year, concerned a software application invented by Carlos Amado, which linked Microsoft’s Excel program and Access database through a single spreadsheet. The inventor had sued for $500 million.

Last week, according to reports, Microsoft began informing clients they would have to install Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack (SP) 2 for any future deployments of Office Professional Edition 2003 and Office Access 2003. They would also have to install the Microsoft Office XP SP3 Patch for all future deployments of Office XP Professional and Access 2002.

Microsoft also requested that its clients update all current installations of Office Professional Edition 2003 and Office Access 2003 with Office 2003 SP2, and Office XP Professional and Access 2002 with the Office XP SP3 Patch.

In an advisory issued last week, Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Alexa Bona warned that while few firms were likely to be in the process of deploying Access 2002 or 2003, refreshing or re-imaging PCs – which takes place frequently within firms – could be construed as a new installation.

According to analyst firm AssetMetrix Research Labs, around 22 per cent of installs will be affected by the need to make changes. The firm had carried out a study of around 600,000 PCs running various versions of Office.

This presents firms with a problem because there is a risk, according to Gartner, that if firms do not make the changes when they are technically obliged to, they will no longer be covered by Microsoft’s guarantee against patent infringement liability.

Gartner therefore advises that firms:

  • Check all relevant applications will work with the new code.
  • Use a version of the software without Access for those users who have no need for Access database functions.
  • Be aware that to simply install the patches without testing may result in malfunctioning applications, although it will avoid the legal risk.
  • See if Microsoft will provide free or cheap consultation to help.
  • Ask if Microsoft will issue a patch for SP1, which would be easier to test and install than a whole new Service Pack. Many firms are still running the older version of the software.
  • Speak to a lawyer if unable to comply.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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