Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Appeals court rules Microsoft infringed patent

But court says the $358 million jury award against Redmond is disproportionate to the small feature in Alcatel-Lucent's patent that appeared to be little used.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

A federal appeals court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that Microsoft infringed on a patent owned by Alcatel-Lucent, but said the jury award of $358 million in damages was excessive.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., upheld a ruling that the patent at issue was valid and had been infringed on, but said there was not sufficient evidence to support the calculation of damages. The question of damages was sent back to the district court.

The patent, whose application was originally filed by engineers at AT&T, covers a method of entering information into fields on a computer screen without using a keyboard. Lucent initially sued computer maker Gateway for the patent infringement in 2002 and Microsoft subsequently intervened. Dell is listed as a third defendant in the case.

The trial court found that the "date-picker" calendar tool in Microsoft Outlook, and similar features in Microsoft Money and Windows Mobile, infringe on what the court refers to as the "Day patent." However, for damages purposes, the court said there was no evidence of widespread use of the infringing tool by customers and questioned the calculation of damages.

Alcatel-Lucent argued that it was owed damages representing 8 percent of the revenue of Microsoft's sales. The jury apparently arrived at its sum based on that percentage of Microsoft's sales or the entire market value of the software products that contain the feature, the opinion said. Microsoft, meanwhile, had suggested a sum of $6.5 million. The appeals court did not suggest a method for calculating the damages, but said the amount chosen by the jury was out of proportion to the potential for infringing use.

The infringing feature is a tiny piece of a large software program, and thus "the portion of the profit that can be credited to the infringing use of the date-picker tool is exceedingly small," the ruling said.

"In short, Outlook is an enormously complex software program comprising hundreds, if not thousands or even more, features. We find it inconceivable to conclude, based on the present record, that the use of one small feature, the date-picker, constitutes a substantial portion of the value of Outlook," the court said.

Representatives from both Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent said they were pleased with the ruling.

"We are pleased that the court vacated the damages award, and we look forward to taking the next step in the judicial process," Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz said in a statement.

"We are very pleased with this decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirming the jury's decision that Microsoft infringed the Alcatel-Lucent Day patent and that the Day patent is a valid patent," Alcatel-Lucent spokeswoman Mary Ward said in a statement.

"While we are disappointed that the court did not affirm the jury's decision on damages, we look forward to an upcoming proceeding to determine the compensation to which Alcatel-Lucent is entitled based on the court's finding that Microsoft did use our patented invention, which Microsoft included in each of the infringing products, presumably because they recognized that it added real value for their customers," she said.

The case is just one of a number of patent infringement cases the two companies have filed against each other over the years including cases involving the MP3 format, as well as communications technology, and digital speech compression.