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Supreme Court to decide fate of Microsoft, i4i case

The US Supreme Court on Monday will hear the ongoing patent case between Microsoft and i4i. Depending on the result, the case could have serious implications in deciding the standard of proof for patents.

The case was brought light to 2007 when i4i sued Microsoft for allegedly using some of i4i’s technology in its Office suite. i4i won the original case in Texas with a US$290 million ruling. However, Microsoft has been patient and has continuously appealed the original ruling. With the Supreme Court hearing the case, it’s Microsoft’s last chance to try and overturn the ruling.

As reported by Computerworld, Microsoft claims that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office had not considered certain evidence and that the burden of proof should be lowered to “a preponderance of the evidence.” Sarah Columbia, head of the intellectual-property litigation practice group at McDermott Will & Emery LLP, does not favor a decision for Microsoft: “There is already enormous pressure for patent attorneys to file every piece of prior art they can think of. If you create this double standard, where art that’s not before the patent office somehow weakens the patent, there’s even more pressure to [file every piece of prior art]. We already have a situation where the examiners are fairly overwhelmed with the volume of work. I think we’re going to make it worse if the Supreme Court sides with Microsoft.”

i4i’s chairman is even more critical claiming it would have serious implications on the patent system: “The implications are gargantuan. The whole system for innovation in this country is predicated on the patent system. If patent rights are eroded to where there’s no point in having a patent because you can’t enforce it, that will disrupt policy and the practice of disclosure.”

Microsoft counters these arguments by claiming that questionable patents should never be granted in the first place. Andy Culbert, Microsoft associate general counsel, argued as much: “Microsoft’s solution to prevent this type of abuse is to have the courts apply the burden that generally applies in all civil cases – the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard — to prove a patent invalid.”

Perhaps what’s most interesting about this case is the long list of supporters for and against Microsoft. Apple, Google and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are all supporting Microsoft’s arguments. However, an even longer list of companies including the US Government are all in favor of i4i. Whether this is simply another case of a patent troll attempting to get a favorable ruling against a major tech company will now have to be decided by the Supreme Court.

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