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Microsoft Began Removing Word 2007 Code Early

While Microsoft likes to project confidence that it will always win lawsuits against it, the software giant often likes to backstop itself just in case -- and it apparently did so in the i4i case.

Tuesday, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) lost its appeal of a patent infringement lawsuit that it originally lost in a lower court last spring.

While the software titan was awaiting the outcome of its appeal, however, back in October, it quietly released a "required" update for PC makers who bundle Office 2007 on new machines that removes the "custom XML" features that were at the center of the suit.

Tuesday's ruling came from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, which granted the plaintiff -- tiny Canadian firm i4i -- a permanent injunction blocking Microsoft from selling any version of Office that contains the infringing features on or after January 11, 2010. Those include Word 2003 and Word 2007 -- although Word 2003 is not currently sold.

I4i sued Microsoft for infringement regarding Office 2007's use of technology for creating and editing custom XML (eXtended Markup Language) code -- a feature primarily used by enterprise customers for "automated server based processing of Word documents," a company statement online said.

One odd thing however, is that, following the appeals court ruling, Microsoft sent out a tweet, and an RSS item, pointing out the availability of the required October OEM update.

Since the update was already required for any OEM that wants to bundle Office 2007 on new PCs, and does not apply to other Office resellers, it seems like overkill to point out the availability of a fix that's already been available for two months.

Office 2010 in the clear

"We expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date," Kevin Kutz, Microsoft director of public affairs, said in a statement Tuesday. (Office 2010, which is due for release in June, does not contain the offending code.)

When asked why the company is touting a two-month-old update, however, Microsoft clammed up.

"This is the only comment we have to offer at this time," a second Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

On Microsoft's OEM Partner Center site, the update is labeled as "required."

"After this patch is installed, Word will no longer read the Custom XML elements contained within DOCX, DOCM, or XML files. These files will continue to open, but any Custom XML elements will be removed," the update's description says.

That would indicate that Microsoft may have been anticipating an appeals court loss as early as October.

I4i sued Microsoft in 2007 regarding its 11-year-old patent, and won its case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, last May. In mid-August, the judge ruled that Microsoft had to cease selling Word 2003 and 2007 -- the offending products -- by October 10 or completely remove the infringing XML editing capabilities.

The judge also awarded a total of $290 million in penalties, fines, and interest to i4i.

In early September, the Appeals Court agreed to stay the permanent injunction on sales of offending versions of Word pending the resolution of Microsoft's appeals.

Tuesday's ruling releases the stay on the permanent injunction.