Microsoft prevails in Office Smart Tag patent suit

Microsoft Corp. has won a patent lawsuit brought against it by Hyperphrase Technologies LLC and Hyperphrase Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin. The case, due to go to trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Oct. 6, was decided by summary judgment Wednesday.

Hyperphrase had claimed that the Smart Tags function in Microsoft's Office XP desktop productivity software infringed on three of its patents, but on Wednesday Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in summary judgment that Microsoft's Smart Tags do not infringe Hyperphrase's patents because they do not operate in the same way as the inventions claimed by Hyperphrase, Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said in an e-mail.

In June 2000, Hyperphrase filed a patent entitled "Tiered and content based database searching," in which it described a method for efficient database searching, including examining a data reference and related information to identify content characteristics and non-content characteristics of the data reference.

Microsoft's Smart Tags technology allows actions such as sending an e-mail or linking to a Web site to be associated with certain content in an electronic document.

The company has been successful in defending itself in more than a dozen patent claims of this type in the past three years, Drake said.

Patent disputes have not always gone Microsoft's way, however. Last month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered Microsoft to pay the University of California and Eolas Technologies Inc. damages of US$520.6 million because its Web browser infringed on one of their patents.

Court records show that the Hyperphrase case, filed in November 2002, ended with a flurry of filings Wednesday, including one to exclude untimely expert opinion.

This was not the first occasion in the proceedings that timing had become a contentious issue: In June, the parties had been given a deadline of midnight on June 25 to file documents via the court's electronic filing system.

Microsoft's legal team filed its summary judgment motion four minutes and 27 seconds after midnight, and other documents 72 minutes after the deadline, prompting Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, to file an opinion describing the move, tongue firmly in cheek, as "a scandalous affront to this court's deadlines." Crocker's sarcasm was prompted by the filing of a motion by nine of Hyperphrase's lawyers to strike Microsoft's late motion as untimely.

Crocker's reaction was scathing.

"Wounded though this court may be by Microsoft's four minute and twenty-seven second dereliction of duty, it will transcend the affront and forgive the tardiness. Indeed, to demonstrate the even-handedness of its magnanimity, the court will allow Hyperphrase on some future occasion in this case to e-file a motion four minutes and thirty seconds late, with supporting documents to follow up to seventy-two minutes later," he wrote in an opinion entered into the record July 1.

"Having spent more than that amount of time on Hyperphrase's motion, it is now time to move on to the other Gordian problems confronting this court. Plaintiff's motion to strike is denied," he concluded.

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