CyberTech Rambler

August 18, 2009

Why didn’t Microsoft tell us about i4i’s patent litigation during the OOXML standards push?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:00 pm

PJ asked “Why didn’t Microsoft tell us about i4i’s patent litigation during the OOXML standards push?” Fair question. Let me try to answer the questions. As you will see, most reasons are not cynical at all.

First, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Microsoft legal and office team does not know that the standard team is doing. It is possible. This happens more frequently than people cares to admit. Don’t believe me, look at the two biggest contributors from Microsoft on the OOXML vs ODF debate, Jason Matusow and Brian Jones, do they struck you as someone in the trench or someone in high management way away in some stately home directing the battle?

Second, Microsoft did not think much about the lawsuit. After all, lets not forget Microsoft gets lawsuit all the time. Patent lawsuits are notoriously difficult to predict. If they expect this is a nuisance suit, why disclose? [I had seen this troubling post about the what the judge said, but it is another blog post]

Third, they did not want to add flame into the already heated OOXML vs ODF debate. If they reported this, rest assure a lot of anti-OOXML people will list it as another reason not to adopt OOXML, regardless of whether the lawsuit has merits or not.

Fourth, they did not want to disclose it to ensure the OOXML path is not so bumpy. This is what PJ is hinting. There are, of course, some truth to it. Microsoft is treading a very thin line here. It of course thinks it is always on the legal side. However, when it comes to standardization, we have ECMA and ISO view to think about as well. Do they think what Microsoft did is legal? I don’t know. But is there going to be any sanctions? Unlikely.

Fifth, this patent litigation might be totally unrelated to the OOXML push. Cyber Cynic is not a MS fan. His brief review of what the patent is suggests that it  “covers a fast way of saving XML (eXtended Markup Language) documents”. If this is true, it has nothing to do with OOXML standardization. Therefore, no need for disclosure. Given the heat of the debate at the time, it is definitely unwise to disclose it.

Sixth, they actually think they will win the lawsuit. Anyone, except SCO perhaps, always thinks that they will win the lawsuit until the result says otherwise.

Finally, the most sinister one, regardless of whether they win or lose, they think they can buy their way out.



  1. Eighth, the patent teams at both ECMA and ISO had jointly declared there were no outstanding patent issues. (I presume that with their experience, they were smart enough to check any outstanding lawsuits.) In terms of OOXML standardization, therefore, Microsoft was covered by this announcement that all was OK.

    Comment by Ian Easson — August 18, 2009 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  2. Dear Ian,


    I am not quite sure I can give ECMA and ISO patent-checking committee as much credit as you do. Quite frankly, all they do is to put out notices that ask for interested party to declare potential patent issues. After that, they considered their work done.

    Your post reminded me something PJ and I had missed: Why didn’t i4i put in the declaration of potential patent issue in itself? After all, given all the heat in the debate, they are unlikely to be unaware of it.

    I think it is therefore reasonable to assume that OOXML in itself does not infringe the patent, only MSOffice’s implementation of it does. So far, i4i seems to be a honest company so I cannot see they deploy the submarine patent strategy to ambush OOXML.

    Comment by ctrambler — August 18, 2009 @ 5:58 pm | Reply

  3. Actually, Custom XML is an important part of both ECMA-376 and IS29500. If i4i are right, then they have a patent on both. (I don’t happen to think they are right, though.)

    In addition, despite the assurances of i4i about ODF, if they are right about custom XML, then they are just as right about the use of Xforms in IS26300 (ODF) to perform the same purpose that Custom XML serves in ECMA-376 and IS29500 – to store custom data in a document file.

    Comment by Ian Easson — August 19, 2009 @ 12:57 am | Reply

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