Judge Leonard Davis, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, has ordered an injunction requiring that Microsoft stop selling Microsoft Word to the U.S. by the 12th of October. Less importantly he also fined them $240 million. What company could bring Microsoft’s office suite to its knees? They’re a “Collaborative XML Content Company” called i4i. They applied for the patent in question in 1994 and it was granted in 1998. The version of Word claimed to be in breach of the patent are Word 2003 and Word 2007.
Many people have been commenting on how its nice to see Microsoft taking a dose of its own medicine, but I disagree. Sure seeing Microsoft get hit with a massive fine and an explosive ultimatum is pleasing the subject matter isn’t. Patents were originally made to help the small guy, to aid innovation and so that inventors could reveal their inventions without fear of having their idea stolen from them and used to make money. Increasingly though patents are becoming the weapons of large corporations to battle with. Large companies are now applying for millions upon millions of patent in order to sue later when another company will unavoidably infringe on them.
The problem has gotten to the point where even looking through patents before you make something can make you more vulnerable to legal action. What is worse though is that it is showing no signs of slowing down. Even companies that have publicly opposed software patents are being forced to build their own patent portfolios so they can defend themselves.
I am not alone in my view here. Public opinion is beginning to turn. From colleagues, fellow bloggers, The EFF, major news outlets and even large companies most everyone is beginning to see the flaws in the system.
Random Thought: If Firefox was going to set the web alight, what is Google Chrome trying to do?