Dell, HP Side With Microsoft on Word Appeal

Microsoft gained some help this week from its two largest PC partners who asked the court to let them join in the company’s Word lawsuit as so-called “friends of the court.”

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) both filed what are known as “amicus curiae” briefs with the appeals court asking to have their positions considered when the court examines the software giant’s request for a stay of the lower court’s permanent injunction on selling Word. The injunction is currently set to go into effect on October 10.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) previously lost the patent case involving Toronto-based i4i’s lawsuit on use of “custom XML” in Word. On August 11, the lower court judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, fined Microsoft $290 million for violating i4i’s patent.

The court also ordered Microsoft to quit shipping offending versions of Word — notably Word 2003 and Word 2007 — within 60 days. Microsoft last week filed an “emergency” appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, requesting an expedited hearing of its appeal as well as a stay of the injunction on selling Word.

Because they are two of Microsoft’s largest customers, Dell and HP perceive they have a lot to lose if Microsoft’s bid to overturn the ruling fails.

The two briefs make similar arguments.

“Dell’s position as a large distributor of Microsoft Word makes it well-suited to speak to the issues of injury to third parties and to the public interest that are relevant to this Court’s assessment of Microsoft’s motion to stay the injunction,” said Dell’s brief.

Similarly, HP’s brief emphasizes the injunction’s economic impact on PC makers that sell Word preinstalled on their computers and on users who are almost universally trained to use Word at work and at home.

“The District Court’s injunction will have an impact far beyond Microsoft. Microsoft Word is ubiquitous among word processing software and is included on … computers sold by Hewlett-Packard,” HP’s brief stated.

A testing and support nightmare?

Both PC companies cited the testing and support nightmare they believe would be imposed on them by forcing Microsoft to change Word or to deliver a workaround that doesn’t infringe i4i’s patent.’

In case the injunction is upheld, the two PC makers asked the appeals court to at least extend the stay for an additional 120 days so the process will at least be more manageable and less damaging to sales at a critical time.

The two companies fear that having to rejigger a large portion of their product lines just before the all-important holiday sales season — especially with the October 22 consumer launch of Windows 7 — could have a significant impact on sales and profits.

Both vendors declined to comment on the case beyond their filings.

“We believe the court erred in its interpretation and application of the law in this case and look forward to the September 23 hearing before the US Court of Appeals,” Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz said in a statement e-mailed to

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