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This week in patent news

Microsoft tells corporate customers worldwide that they may need to start using a different version of Office because of a legal setback.

Microsoft began e-mailing its corporate customers worldwide, letting them know that they may need to start using a different version of Office as a result of a recent legal setback.

The software maker said it has been forced to issue new versions of Office 2003 and Office XP, which change the way Microsoft's Access database interacts with its Excel spreadsheet.

The move follows a jury verdict last year that found in favor of a patent claim by a Guatemalan inventor. Although existing customers can keep using older versions on current machines, any new installations of Office 2003 will require Service Pack 2, released by Microsoft in September. Office XP will need to be put into use with a special patch applied.

In another patent scuffle, wireless e-mail vendor Visto took aim at a fellow rival to Research In Motion, filing a patent infringement lawsuit against Good Technology. Visto and Good Technology are two of several companies looking to capitalize on the legal problems of RIM, which could see its popular BlackBerry service shut down from its own patent problems with NTP.

Visto is charging that Good Technology's products infringe on four patents it holds for sending data wirelessly over a network. The company is seeking a permanent injunction against the GoodLink software that runs Good's system, the same remedy sought by NTP against RIM's wireless software and services.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will re-examine the validity of the so-called JPEG patent held by Forgent Networks, an action that could deprive the company of its multimillion-dollar revenue stream. The Patent Office granted the review at the request of the Public Patent Foundation, a nonprofit legal-services foundation that says it is interested in protecting the public against harm caused by patents.

Forgent has become one of the more successful intellectual-property firms to emerge in the last few years. The company acquired U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672 (known as the '672 patent) when it bought Compression Labs in 1997. When the company audited its patents, it began to believe that the '672 patent covered the JPEG compression technique used in digital cameras and PCs.