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Judge tosses Microsoft Smart Tags case

A federal judge dismisses a case in which a small Wisconsin software maker claimed features in Microsoft Office infringed on its patents.

A federal judge has dismissed a patent infringement case against Microsoft.

Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued the ruling Wednesday in response to Microsoft's request for summary judgment in a case brought by Hyperphrase Technologies, a small Madison, Wis.-based software maker. Hyperphrase claimed that Smart Tags technology included in recent versions of Microsoft's Office productivity software infringed on patents HyperPhrase was granted relating to data storage and retrieval methods.

Smart Tags allow document creators to include links to information in other documents or Web pages. The technology proved controversial in broader use, with Microsoft dropping plans to include it in the Windows XP operating system.

Crabb agreed with Microsoft's argument that XML-based Smart Tags operate differently from Hyperphrase's methods and therefore aren't covered by the patents. She dismissed the case, which had been scheduled to go to trial Oct. 6.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake hailed the ruling. "As an intellectual property company, we are committed to respecting the intellectual property of others, but we also invest heavily in R&D and we will defend our intellectual property when necessary," she said in a statement.

The Hyperphrase case gained notoriety in legal circles because of a tongue-in-cheek June ruling by the original presiding judge, Stephen Crocker. Hyperphrase lawyers had asked the judge to dismiss Microsoft's petition for summary judgment because the documents were electronically filed a little more than four minutes after the deadline set by the court.

After facetiously describing Microsoft's actions as "nothing short of a frontal assault on the precept of punctuality so cherished by and vital to this court," Crocker ruled to allow the summary judgment motion.

"Wounded though the court may be by Microsoft's four minute and 27-second dereliction of duty," he wrote, "it will transcend the affront and forgive the tardiness. Indeed, to demonstrate the even-handedness of its magnanimity, the court will allow HyperPhrase on some future occasion in this case to e-file a motion four minutes and thirty seconds late."