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AT&T is suing MS because MS is selling Windows outside the US and not properly paying AT&T for their patented speech recognition software which is built in. Microsoft is only paying for licenses on copies that are sold in the US. So basically, MS is saying that they can do whatever they want with AT&T's technology anywhere that US patent law can't reach.
Even though this is the basis for the lawsuit, there are other, more interesting, questions being raised, such as software patents in general.
"What is patented?" asked Justice John Paul Stevens. "Is the physical object [master disk] patented or is the software patented?" And from Antonin Scalia: "You can't patent?on-off, on-off code in the abstract, can you?"
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, noting that Microsoft contends the Windows code is nothing more than a blueprint, wanted to know, "Can a blueprint be patented? Can a mold be patented?"
The answer to all their questions? No."
Yes, that was Antonin Scalia, the most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who asked the single most important question in software patent history: "You can't patent?on-off, on-off code in the abstract, can you?"
Because that is exactly what software is. It's "on-off code in the abstract." It's 1s and 0s. On or Off. The legality of software patents won't be decided by this case, but we know now that it will be eventually.