My thoughts on the banning of Microsoft Word

Today, Microsoft has been banned from selling its Microsoft Word product in the US.

My first thoughts are, have the stores been told? Is Microsoft Office being pulled off the shelves? How can something like this even happen? In fact, I think the judge and the court and the entire state of Texas should be banned from Microsoft Word. If I were in charge at MS, I would issue an immediate Microsoft Update to revoke all licenses of MS Word and prevent people from opening it. What kind of widespread panic would ensue? Maybe then the court would take its decision back.

i4i is a company that apparently helps companies manage, collaborate on, and update important documents. These documents are in a .xml format which is meant to be opened in Microsoft Word. So they are deeply tied to MS Word in the first place. Why they would want to send it off the shelves is beyond me. They even tout, in their (PowerPoint) presentation linked to from their site, that they have a “Word-based XML Authoring” tool.

They have a press release on their site regarding this patent infringement mess. In it, they tout the $200 million (!!) that Microsoft will be giving them, for “damages” (oh yes, all the damages from them piggybacking off of MS software for their own product). They cite patent 5,787,449.

Here’s the patent. But don’t worry, I read through most of it and I’ll summarize it for you.

In the past, formatted documents have contained their formatting within the document. For example, HTML looks like this:

Here is some bold and some italic text.

And it would result in:

Here is some bold and some italic text.

Well they came up with this process where you separate the text from the formatting. You have a map that says which characters are formatted which way. Then the software can display formatted text from this map, instead of reading special markup tags in the body of the text. MAPS ARE NOT A NEW CONCEPT. This is NOT a big deal! Even at its time, filed in 1994 and issued in 1998, I really cannot believe that the patent office passed this.

This is not an invention. They took two Legos, put them together and said “here patent office, give me the right to sue anyone that puts two Legos together.” And so now, that’s exactly what they did.

Back when the internet was new, people were buying up domain names for the sake of extortion. You’d buy a good name, like the name of a company, for about $10 (for one year). Then you’d go to the company and say “hey guys, I bought your domain name so it’s mine. But you can have it if you pay me!” That’s the same sort of thing that happened here, and now Microsoft has to pay giant sums of money because they happened upon the same mechanism but it was patented.

Who ever came up with the idea of patenting mathematical structures anyway? Can I place a patent on, oh I don’t know, a mathematical matrix with letters in it instead of numbers, then go around suing algebra teachers? Another example of the ridiculousness of this case.

I am completely against the idea of patenting simple software concepts like this. The problem, of course, is what constitutes “simple.” Maybe back in 1994 this was a novel concept. Or maybe there were other people using the same simple concept and i4i was the first to send it to the patent office.

Anyway this has turned into a ramble/rant so I’m just going to cut this entry here. I’d like to hear your perspective, so please leave a comment. Let me know what you think, if I’ve gotten anything wrong or if there’s any misinformation. One bit of info that I’m unsure about is really whether Microsoft has been banned from selling Word. That’s what the news article says, but i4i’s announcement says “i4i can seek a court order blocking further use of its invention by Microsoft.” I can’t find the official court thing online to read the real verdict.

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1 Response to My thoughts on the banning of Microsoft Word

  1. Dude, you are completely correct. MS Word was built with simple coding, and as a result, has to pay another company that patened that same code. I have come across many products similar to Word, but it has never hit my mind that some person (or company) would actually be stupid enough to sue. Now I actually like Microsoft, unlike many software devs I know, but I know enough about them that they will some how counter this act by creating a new and improved Word. This would benefit us all, as a new and improved commonly used software should after it has been improved upon. I think the issue of patten abuse is easily one of the most un-noticed disturbing issues in the US today. If the government wants to save the economy, they should stop patten abuse so that more jobs can be created (imagine all the retailer’s sales plummiting now that they dont have MS Word in their Office package.). Now getting a bit more on topic, I think this will be a major rebound for MS. Many people hate them, but once Word is gone, people will be put into a world without Word, and they soon will love MS. MAC users are a different story. As for me? Im a PC and a MS lover.

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