Applications

Microsoft in Court Over Alleged Technology Infringement

Microsoft has allegedly stolen technology developed by a Guatemalan inventor. The technology in question is designed to link spreadsheet data between two of Microsoft’s programs.

Plaintiff lawyers delivered opening statements in a jury trial that started on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Central California.

Guatemalan software engineer Carlos Armando Amado’s lawsuit claims he filed for a patent in 1990 for software he invented while he was a graduate student at Stanford University.

That software links Microsoft’s Excel program with its Access database application via a single spreadsheet. Amado said he tried to sell it to Microsoft two years later, but the software giant refused his offer.

Microsoft Responds

Microsoft spokesperson Stacy Drake told TechNewsWorld that Amado did in fact meet with company officials in 1992. But that was three years after Microsoft had already started working on its own technology to link Excel and Access. Microsoft had no interest in Amado’s technology.

But Amado said Microsoft started using his software a few years later. Access 95, 97, 2000 and 2002 allegedly infringe on his patent. Amado is seeking damages that could exceed US$500 million, which would figure at about $2 per software copy sold.

Microsoft officials absolutely deny Amado’s claims.

“The evidence will show that Microsoft technology in this case was independently developed by our engineers and that it functions very differently from Mr. Amado’s technology,” Drake said.

Patent Politics

Patent suits are certainly nothing new in the technology sector. In fact, patent infringement suits have skyrocketed over the last decade.

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the number of patent suits grew from 1,553 in 1993 to 2,700 in 2002, a 74 percent increase. High-profile tech companies like Microsoft and Apple Computer are often the targets.

“You do see a lot of patent cases in the technology industry,” Drake said. “Microsoft has about 35 patent cases pending right now. “

Microsoft’s track record is good. In less than eight months the software giant has prevailed in five patent cases. The jury found in favor of Microsoft in two of those cases. The judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claims in summary judgment in the other three suits. The jury trial is expected to last two weeks.

Microsoft hasn’t won every patent case, however. The company reached a $60 million agreement with Burst.com to settle claims for a non-exclusive license (without sub-license rights) to Burst’s patent portfolio.

Burst’s lawsuit, originally filed in June of 2002, asserted patent, trade secret and antitrust claims revolving around its Faster-Than-Real-Time video and audio delivery product.

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