MS Word Patent Infringement: Is Your Document Assembly Investment At Risk?
We’ve been getting asked one question with increasing regularity over the past couple of months. How is Exari affected by Microsoft Word’s patent infringement?
We’re not affected at all.Exari is platform-independent and did not use Word’s ‘Custom XML’ feature. By design, our architecture is ‘Word-compatible’ but not ‘Word-dependent’. This enables us to simplify complex document logic and provide users with visibility into their contracts in ways that Word-based systems simply can’t.
On December 22 2009 a US federal appeals court upheld a finding that Microsoft Word’s ‘Custom XML’ feature – described in quasi-layman’s terms here – infringed the patent of a Canadian software company. As a result, Microsoft was required to pay US$290 million in damages and remove Custom XML from new copies of Word sold in the US from January 11 2010 onwards.For the vast majority of Word users the patent infringement is a non-issue. Microsoft immediately removed what they describe as a “little used feature” from the offending products. XML guru, Tim Bray, provides a good explanation of why most people will be completely unaffected.
One area that has been deeply affected is document assembly. Microsystems, developer of the D3 document assembly system, has already had to pull it’s product from the market:
“Microsystems announced it will discontinue development of D3 [its document assembly tool] and Legal TemplatesPlus as a result of Microsoft’s decision to remove Custom XML code from Office…Microsystems evaluated various alternatives including redeveloping both products, but determined a feature equivalency could not be attained with the technologies and methodologies available today and the development work would likely result in an overall inferior solution for customers.”
Different Word-based document assembly systems will be affected in different ways. (Systems that don’t rely on Word for automating templates are unaffected by the patent infringement). As the D3 situation illustrates, systems that embraced Custom XML are now effectively unusable.The question is where this leaves other Word-based systems. Those that rely exclusively on bookmarks, field codes, macros, etc. should be OK. For those claiming XML support it’s unclear. (Hopefully users of those systems are covered by well drafted IP indemnities.)However, there’s a bigger problem for the Word-dependent systems that don’t rely on Word’s Custom XML feature.
As Microsystems explains in their statement — Using Word-based approaches that don’t leverage Custom XML will “likely result in an overall inferior solution for customers.”
When it comes to selecting a document assembly system, you should go for one that’s Word-compatible but not Word-dependent. Exari’s platform-independent approach means it’s business as usual for our customers. For everyone else, be sure to contact your document assembly vendor.