Microsoft Word banned in USA over alleged patent infringement by district court in east Texas
*** I am still digesting the facts. I will continue to update this web page as I progress. When finished, this page will provide a simple analysis of the facts, and offer an informed prediction about the likely outcome of the appeal:- ***
I can offer technical expertise and experience of the type of computer operation in question. I am consulting with contacts who have specialist knowledge in the other key areas, patent law and patent interpretation -- patent attorneys and editors on publications about scientific patents.
"Method and system for manipulating the architecture and the content of a document separately from each other"
- US Patent No. 5,787,449 (1998) [European Patent Office copy with diagrams]
At this stage the story has been widely reported in the mass media and online, e.g. CNET News, and commented upon by the general public. There is a lack of informed analysis.
Judge Leonard Davis of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale or import of Microsoft Word in the United States of America.
The case against Microsoft is questionable, and the court was under-qualified to make an informed judgement on the relevant issues. Furthermore, this court is reportedly famous for being biased against big companies, and has a proven track record of ruling in favour of small companies in previous patent-infringement cases. Microsoft will appeal and the injunction is not expected to affect sales of MS software.
The judge and laymen responsible for this decision lack the technical expertise required to compare the concepts described in the patent with the concepts applied in a software product such as Microsoft Word. The patent describes complex technical concepts and uses terminology that would be confusing even to somebody who does possess the technical expertise. The judge and laymen also lack the necessary expertise of patent law. In addition to the technical and legal complexities of this case, the text of the patent is not easy to follow; therefore it seems likely that the judge and laymen could not have understood the document.
Faced with a case too complex to understand, a judge and laymen could easily rule in favour of the side that they best understand, even if that side rests on flawed arguments. In this case, in a district court in Texas, we have the arguments put by technical and legal experts representing the world’s largest software corporation, against the arguments put by representatives of a relatively small business.
If the judge and lay people involved were experts in computer science and patent law, which they were not, of course judges can make mistakes.
12 August 2009
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