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US gov opposes Microsoft in i4i patent spat

Juries get confused. And this is complicated

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The US government has thrown its support behind tiny i4i in its Office patent dispute with Microsoft.

US acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, employed by the Department of Justice, has filed an amicus brief in the case that comes out against Microsoft.

Katyal wrote that the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), rather than courts with juries, should resolve patent disputes.

He said the benefit that might be derived from court-based decision might be outweighed by "uncertainties and potential for jury confusion".

The filing here (warning: PDF) comes as the case enters what is likely to be its final phase, as it's been accepted for hearing by the US Supreme Court.

The case was brought by i4i over a claimed violation of an XML patent in Word 2003 and Word 2007. The court hearing the case in 2009 found for i4i and fined Microsoft $200m and ruled Microsoft could not sell or import Word 2003 and Word 2007 with the patent in board.

Having lost earlier phases of the case, Microsoft finally argued in November that its case should be heard by the US Supreme Court. i4i had argued against. The ruling is now expected by the end of June.

The government is just the latest in a mushrooming list to have filed documents the case supporting one side or the other – or taking a neutral stand.

Fifty-four parties have so far sided with i4i by filing amicus briefs compared to 20 for Microsoft. A further five have filed briefs supporting neither side - they include IBM.

You can see the full list, with briefs, here. ®

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