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Microsoft assembles unlikely band of brothers against patent trolls

i4i get tooth-for-tooth response from tech world

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Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Dell, Intel, Facebook and Hewlett-Packard have all come out in support of Microsoft’s efforts to upend a patent infringement verdict that ordered the software giant to pay $290m in damages.

Microsoft is hoping to convince the US Supreme Court to rethink how the country’s judicial system decides the validity of patents.

Toronto-based i4i won its court battle against Microsoft in August last year over an XML - or extensible markup language - custom editor present in some editions of MS Word.

Redmond was slapped with the multi-million dollar fine and issued with an injunction that prevented it from selling 2003 and 2007 versions of Word that came loaded with i4i’s patented XML tech. Microsoft was also required to remove the custom XML editor from its Office 2010 suite, prior to launch.

In May this year Microsoft failed to have a patent claim brought against i4i examined by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

At the time, a gleeful i4i said that “i4i’s patent [number 5,787,449] is clearly and unequivocally valid”.

But Microsoft continues to dispute that claim, and it now has the backing of some big name tech firms, a couple of US trade groups, retail giant Walmart and even an endorsement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Microsoft’s curious band of supporters filed papers yesterday with the US Supreme Court urging it to take up the case, in what must be a last-ditch effort to overturn i4i’s legal win.

But the ramifications of the case go way beyond Redmond's walls, with patent infringement claims whacking many of the biggest tech firms in the US on a pretty regular basis. It’s no wonder then that those players want to see the highest court in the land overturn the i4i verdict.

The EFF, for its part, said that “the Federal Circuit’s requirement that an accused infringer prove patent invalidity by ‘clear and convincing’ evidence unfairly burdens patent defendants, especially in the free and open source software context.

“The standard undermines the traditional patent bargain between private patent owners and the public and threatens to impede innovation and the dissemination of knowledge. EFF is of course concerned with the effect illegitimate patents have on innovation,” it said.

“While the Supreme Court rarely agrees to hear petitions such as Microsoft’s, we hope it will choose to hear this one. It’s long past time to level the patent playing field.”

Seattle PI has more here, including links to the briefs filed by the various companies and groups supporting Microsoft's efforts. ®

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