Microsoft Word sales ban delayed

A federal appeals court has put on hold an order that would force Microsoft to stop selling the main version its Word program for creating documents unless it modifies them to comply with a patent ruling.

The Washington-based US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed to a request by Microsoft that the permanent injunction be delayed until it rules on the merits of the software company's appeal.

The one-page order said Microsoft "has met its burden to obtain a stay of the injunction".

The biggest PC makers have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Microsoft in the case, which also produced an order directing Microsoft to pay $240m in damages to a small Toronto company called i4i.

Three weeks ago, a district judge in Tyler, Texas, issued the permanent injunction barring Microsoft from allowing Word 2003, Word 2007 or forthcoming versions of the program to open files that contain what is known as custom XML, which allows users, typically large businesses, to create their own forms and templates.

People working with Microsoft said it would not be extraordinarily difficult to disable the offending Word functionality through the Windows updating service.

The two sides had discussed a settlement, but had remained apart on a compensation figure.

The case was filed in 2007 and the jury arrived at the damages figure after examining what a similar stand-alone product was fetching in the market.

Following expert testimony, it arrived at a figure of $98 for each individual who used the function, or $200m in total.

Mr Davis added $40m in penalties for what he said was Microsoft's "wilful" infringement. He cited e-mails showing Microsoft had been informed of the patent issue before improving Word's design.

"We saw [i4i's products] some time ago and met its creators. Word 11 will make it obsolete," Martin Sawicki, a Microsoft developer, wrote to a colleague.

"Microsoft had knowledge of the patent and its relation to i4i's products and wilfully chose to render the technology obsolete while simply ignoring the patent," the judge wrote.

Microsoft has lost a few patent cases, but its healthy cash position has allowed it to settle patent cases without big changes to its product line.

Microsoft and Nokia this month announced an alliance aimed at challenging Research In Motion's leading position in the corporate mobile phone market.

The Finnish mobile-phone maker is planning to use Microsoft's Office Mobile suite of software on its smartphones - mobiles that double up as mini computers.

Nokia's E-series of phones, aimed at business users, will be the first to feature the software next year. Later it will be extended to the wider portfolio of handsets.

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