Supreme Court Upholds $290 Million Patent Infringement Award

The U.S Supreme Court has ruled that Microsoft is liable for $290 million damages for patent infringement for technology used in building its Word software.

The decision upholds a 2009 ruling in which Microsoft was found guilty of infringement on the patents of the Toronto-based i4i. Microsoft had appealed the verdict, but the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts' decision, with an unanimous ruling announced today.

i4i holds a patent for building a method of processing custom XML, a method i4i claimed - and the courts have agreed - that Microsoft violated with its 2003 and subsequent versions of Word.

The case was being closely watched by many as legal questions about intellectual property rights seem to be plaguing the tech industry lately. There have been a number of high profile patent infringement cases recently: the Lodsys lawsuits against app developers and Oracle's lawsuit against Google to name but two.

Microsoft and others had hoped that a decision would make it easier for companies to defend themselves in patent infringement lawsuits. Last year, the EFF and the Apache Software Foundation had filed amicus briefs in support of Microsoft in this case.

Currently, in order to invalidate a patent, "clear and convincing" evidence is required. Microsoft argued that there is no need to have a standard that high. Rather, defendants should be able to challenge patents with the less onerous "preponderance of the evidence" standard.

That's the same standard that is required for a patent-holding plaintiff to prove that a defendant has infringed on a patent, and Microsoft argues that by making both parties adhere to the lower standard, it levels the litigation playing field.

But the Supreme Court did not agree, and Justice Sonia Sotomeyer wrote today that the courts have upheld this stricter standard for decades now. Congress has never considered changing the law, and "any recalibration of the standard of proof remains in its hands."

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