Microsoft, i4i, XMLWhat would Microsoft be without its omnipresent Word word-processing software? If a U.S. federal court has its way (and that's a big "if"), we could see the day.

A U.S. district court in Texas ruled in favor of Toronto-based i4i Ltd in its 2007 claim that Microsoft knowingly infringed on a patented granted to i4i in 1998 (pdf) regarding the use of extensible markup language (XML) in Word 2003, Word 2007 and Windows Vista. Now Judge Leonard Davis, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, has ordered a permanent injunction (pdf) that would prohibit Microsoft within 60 days from "selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or .DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML," reports Seattlepi.com. The court has also fined Microsoft $290 million, for good measure.

The World Wide Web Consortium developed XML, which debuted in 1998, to structure, store and transport information. Whereas Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) includes a set of predefined data tags—such as <i> for italics, <b> for bold, <p> for paragraph break, etc. —that dictate the format of information presented on a Web page, XML lets the programmer create customized tags for defining data.

Few are convinced that i4i's claim and the recent ruling will hold up over time. PC World, for example, points out five reasons Word will survive this patent challenge: i4i's patent is vague, Microsoft owns a patent awarded earlier this year that covers Word's use of XML, Microsoft has deep pockets and could settle the matter, Microsoft could buy i4i (and its portfolio of patents), or an appeals court could decide that Word is too important to consumers and businesses worldwide to be shut down by a lawsuit.

Microsoft says it will appeal the verdict. "We are disappointed by the court's ruling," Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz said in a statement. "We believe the evidence clearly demonstrated that we do not infringe and that the i4i patent is invalid."

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