In his December 22, 2009 blog article "Microsoft Word sale prohibited as of Jan. 11, fix promised," Christopher Null reports that a U.S. federal court has found Microsoft in violation of patent law. This is another example of how some corporations abuse their market power to the detriment of consumers. Most economists agree government regulation is necessary to achieve more desirable social outcomes when there are market failures, such as a lack of sufficient competition.
Office workers of America, enjoy your Christmas break. Because come the new year, things could get a little hairy around the office. Microsoft Word is now scheduled to be prohibited from sale beginning January 11, 2010. That's less than three weeks away. The good news: Microsoft has promised a fix, one which will be rolled out before the deadline arrives.
If you don't understand, you might have simply missed this story, or dismissed it as something that Microsoft would ultimately use its considerable clout to have pushed under a legal rug.
But it's no joke. In August of this year, a court sided with a small Canadian company called i4i that holds a 1998 patent on the way the XML language is implemented, finding that Microsoft was in violation of that patent. The result: Microsoft was told to license the code in question from i4i or reprogram it, or else Microsoft Word would have to be removed from sale in the market. The original ruling gave Microsoft until October to get its legal affairs in order, but appeals pushed that out a bit.
Now a federal court has upheld that original ruling -- plus a fat, $290 million judgment against the company -- imposing the new January 11 D-Day on the matter. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office will both be barred from sale as of that date -- though naturally you'll still be able to use copies of Word and Office that you already own, and Microsoft will be allowed to keep supporting those copies.
Unless Microsoft ships the promised technical workaround very quickly, things are going to get extremely dicey in the computer world, and fast. Not only will retail outlets selling shrinkwrapped copies of the software be affected, computer manufacturers (who complained loudly about this injunction when it was announced) who bundle Word and Office on the computers they sell will also be seriously impacted by the ruling.
There's always a chance things will change again as the January 11 deadline approaches, but if your company requires Word or Office to keep operations running, it might not be a bad idea to stock up on a few extra copies now.