I’ve taken a little time to read Microsoft’s position on their infringement of i4i’s patent relating to a system for manipulating the architecture and content of a document separately. This is the patent case which has resulted in the initial injunction that would stop the sale of Microsoft Word. In my initial post on this topic I was of the view that:
“…this is not a typical rubbish software patent that earns its filer a 20 year monopoly on the dead obvious.”
The key concept of the patent claim is that there is a separation of a document’s content from its formatting code into two distinct entities. That should have taken Microsoft off the hook. After all, the offending file formats have the formatting code stored together with the content.
But, that’s not how the courts decided to interpret the idea of separation. This is achieved, in their view, as long as there was “a portion of memory for storing a metacode map” and “a portion of memory for storing mapped content.”
Well, that changes everything!
If i4i’s claim applied at a file level – that is one distinct file for the content and another one for the content – I still feel that was innovative 15 years ago when the patent was filed (although Microsoft claims that two SGML editors – Rita and DeRose – were existing programs that did exactly that). And, as noted, Microsoft is not infringing that idea.
But if a metacode map and its associated mapped content are just locations in memory then this entire patent should be invalidated based on lack of novelty. Under these conditions the markup codes are just programmatic abstractions. And such abstractions have been around since day dot. That’s what variables, functions, sub-routines and object instantiations are!
So maybe i4i’s patent aren’t rubbish. But the way the courts have decided to interpret it sure is! As an advocate for software patents this is incredibly frustrating. Every time one of these loose interpretations is applied – either by the courts or the patent and trademark office – it not only undermines people’s confidence in the system but obscures the true nature of innovation in our industry.
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