Supreme Court to hear Microsoft I4i patent appeal

Microsoft's fight with Canadian company I4i over a patent has been given life once again, with the high court agreeing to hear Microsoft's appeal.

Josh Lowensohn
Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
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Microsoft's patent fracas with Canadian firm I4i has been given new life, as the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the software giant's appeal.

The case, which went in favor of I4i last year, centered around Microsoft's use of XML technology within its Word software. Following I4i's victory, Microsoft was required to strip the functionality from its software as part of an injunction.

"We are gratified by the court's decision," Microsoft's corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for litigation David Howard said in a statement. "It's a clear affirmation that the issues raised in this case are critical to the integrity of our patent system. We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court."

I4i Chairman Loudon Owen said in a statement that "In light of both the importance of this case, and the facts that have already been tried, I4i is confident we will continue to prevail before the courts."

The appeal is part of a larger push by Microsoft, as well as other tech companies, to change the way patents are legislated. Earlier this year, Microsoft's now-granted appeal, was given a push by Apple, Intel, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Hewlett-Packard, among others, as part of that initiative.

In a call with CNET earlier today, Owen said the banded support of these companies was neither a surprise, nor a concern. "In fact, it's probably at one level a good thing," Owen said. "Because it highlights where the divide is, and where the dichotomy is."

Owen also said that the case continues to bring to light the importance of patents as being an equalizer for small companies competing with large ones. "The companies that already have gargantuan balance sheets and massive market shares, and entrenched positions in the markets have aligned in favor of reducing the value of patents, and making patents bordering on unenforceable for a lot of companies," Owen said.

"So it's not surprising. In fact, in some ways it's helpful to see how they have aligned because it brings into focus and brings into clarity just what the issue is and how important it is," he said.

Bloomberg is reporting that Microsoft has not yet paid the $200 million-plus award to I4i, despite following through with changes to the software itself. Owen confirmed that to CNET, saying "We're still firing away, and working on the next steps. And we don't get paid until we win, and that's just the way the system works."

Updated at 11:50 a.m. PT with comment from I4i.