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Open Source Cloud: Article

i4i Fallout Could Be Widespread

Gartner analyst Brian Prentice is also wondering about the patent’s impact on ODF

Concerns have been raised that Tuesday's Great Word Injunction could beget a bunch of nasty children.

i4i chairman Loudon Owen told Redmond Magazine, which got a more detailed audience with him than most - we got as far as the idea that Microsoft might get a stay, he went into a snit about "It's our technology and we're going to get paid for it," then found something else to do promising to call back and never did - anyway, he suggested to Redmond Magazine that there might be other offenders out and that Microsoft's broader Office Open XML (OOXML) document format technology - you know, the controversial ISO/IEC standard 29500 - might be implicated.

It appears that Owen thinks the i4i patent is "potentially integral to the standard."

Redmond Magazine also touched base with Burton Group research director Guy Creese, who said that the next version of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) - the rival ISO/IEC standard - could have a problem.

The current ODF 1.1 is clean but, he said, "ODF 1.2 will move to a similar custom schema that OOXML has."

Gartner analyst Brian Prentice is also wondering about the patent's impact on ODF. "But, if the validity of the patent is upheld," he writes, "then the immediate question is whether this will also impact ODF. If so, then this turns out to be a significantly more important issue and one which will crystallize the fury of the anti-patentistas. No longer will this be the source of some Schadenfreude at Microsoft's expense. This will be seen as yet another attack on open standards and open software."

Prentice has been thumbing through the i4i patent and thinks it "might actually have some legs."

"Keep in mind," he says, "that this claim was filed back in 1994. The claim considers the existing state of the art at that time - formats like TROFF, RFT and SGML - before asserting that ‘in sharp contrast to the prior art the present invention is based on the practice of separating encoding conventions from the content of a document. The invention does not use embedded metacoding to differentiate the content of the document, but rather, the metacodes of the document are separated from the content and held in distinct storage in a structure called a metacode map, whereas document content is held in a mapped content area. Raw content is an extreme example of mapped content wherein the latter is totally unstructured and has no embedded metacodes in the data stream.'"

It suggests to him that "this is not a typical rubbish software patent" and 15 years ago would seemed an "innovative idea," which leads him to "another interpretation that I fear will be lost in the noise. That is some introspective consideration of whether there is actually a rampant disregard in the software industry for other's property rights. If it is not just .docx but also ODF that infringes then that could be seen as some pretty significant oversight, potentially even arrogance, on the part of Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and OASIS. And given that Microsoft was aware of i4i's patents, one wonders why they didn't just buy them (at a significantly reduced price then what they might end up paying now) and then target ODF for license agreements like they're doing with their patent infringement claims against Linux."

We asked Owen about i4i's negotiations with Microsoft back in 2001 and after. He was reluctant to say more than they "didn't end in a commercial agreement," but it seemed odd when he said he didn't know what Microsoft's objections were and left the impression that i4i was quick to take corrective action although it didn't file suit until March of 2007.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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