Top court hears Microsoft appeal on i4i patent

Mon Apr 18, 2011 3:41pm EDT
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to make it easier to challenge some patents as part of its appeal of a record $290 million jury verdict for infringing a small Canadian software firm's patent.

An attorney for the world's largest software company argued that the court should reject the long-held requirement that a defendant in a patent infringement case must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a plaintiff's patent is invalid.

Thomas Hungar, an attorney for Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, said a lower standard should be used, which could make some patents more vulnerable to legal challenge while promoting innovation and competition.

An Obama administration lawyer and Seth Waxman, an attorney for the Toronto-based i4i, said Congress has accepted the standard in effect for at least the past 28 years, that it was correct and that it was based on long-settled precedent.

The Supreme Court justices questioned all three attorneys closely and gave no clear indication during arguments of how they would rule. A decision is expected by the end of June.

The legal battle stemmed from a federal jury's award of $290 million to i4i after finding Microsoft had infringed its patent relating to text manipulation software in 2003 and 2007 versions of Word, Microsoft's word processing application.

A U.S. appeals court upheld the award and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office upheld the validity of the i4i patent. Microsoft continued to dispute those decisions, but removed the contested features from its current software.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, Microsoft said it wanted a new trial.   Continued...