As one of the legal professions most proficient masters of Microsoft Word (so I say, and I have references), I was surprised to learn that some Canadian company I've never heard of convinced a District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Texas to enjoin Microsoft from selling versions of Microsoft Word in 60 days. Ashby Jones, Microsoft Word-less? (August 12, 2009) http://blogs.wsj.com/law/. The patent at issue concerns Microsoft's use of custom XML in newer versions of Microsoft Word. What's that you ask? The simple version requires understanding what is meant by XML. XML refers to Extensible Markup Language. This language allows a structured document to be marked with tags that describe the type of content in various sections. This markup allows data to be pulled from the document, along with the tags that describe the type of data. If you know the purpose of each part of a document, different programs can make use of the document in different ways that are all consistent with the markup.
Essentially, Microsoft took the open XML standard and added some custom tags to the base standard, creating its own flavor of XML that is unique to Microsoft Word. i4i alleges that is holds a patent on the use of custom XML. The end result of this debacle will be reversal at the appellate level, a settlement between the companies, or a patch that simply switches off the use of custom XML in Word versions. Such a patch would have no effect on documents saved in the older DOC format.
For those interested in some additional information about XML, PCWorld has a helpful article that describes XML in clear and simple terms:
Think of XML as a way to define what kind of information goes into a document. So, as I'm writing this story in Word, I could hypothetically use XML to denote the story's title as "headline," my name as "byline," and the article itself as the "body."
Jared Newman, Microsoft Word Lawsuit: XML Explained (August 13, 2009) www.pcworld.com. See the article for some futher explanation of how one might use such content definitional markup.