January 30, 2006 11:19 AM PST

Patent spat forces businesses to upgrade Office

Microsoft has begun e-mailing its corporate customers worldwide, letting them know that they may need to start using a different version of Office as a result of a recent legal setback.

The software maker said Monday that it has been forced to issue new versions of Office 2003 and Office XP, which change the way Microsoft's Access database interacts with its Excel spreadsheet.

The move follows a verdict last year by a jury in Orange County, Calif., which found in favor of a patent claim by Guatemalan inventor Carlos Armando Amado. Microsoft was ordered to pay $8.9 million in damages for infringing Amado's 1994 patent. That award covered sales of Office between March 1997 and July 2003.

"It was recently decided in a court of law that certain portions of code found in Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, Microsoft Office Access 2003, Microsoft Office XP Professional and Microsoft Access 2002 infringe a third-party patent," Microsoft said in an e-mail to customers. "As a result, Microsoft must make available a revised version of these products with the allegedly infringing code replaced."

Although existing customers can keep using older versions on current machines, any new installations of Office 2003 will require Service Pack 2, released by Microsoft in September. Office XP will need to be put into use with a special patch applied.

Microsoft is also recommending that customers update their existing software with the new code.

"We understand that this will create an inconvenience for a small percentage of our customers and are committed to working with them through the process and easing the inconvenience as best as possible," Sunny Jensen Charlebois, a Microsoft senior product manager, said in a statement to CNET News.com. The company is readying an all-new version of Office, code-named Office 12, that is due out later this year.

Microsoft would not say how many customers are affected, but said it is likely only a "small fraction" of Office users. However, the company appears to be requiring all companies to use the new version from now on, so most large organizations could be affected by the move.

The software maker started notifying customers this month, in an e-mail sent via its sales channel. All those affected will have been informed by next month, Microsoft said.

The company said the necessary downloads are available from its Web site.

Gartner analyst Michael Silver said it is hard to estimate the cost to customers, but said it is a significant impact for companies to move to a new service pack of a major program such as Office.

"It's probably a multimonth effort" for companies that want to double-check that key databases and critical Excel macros all work, Silver said. The other option is to "roll the dice" and just switch to the new software, but "most companies don?t want to do that with critical resources," he added.

The question for companies, though, is if they are exposing themselves to potential legal liability if they don't quickly move to the new software. Microsoft promises to indemnify customers from third-party patent claims, but Silver said the license terms also require customers to "immediately" move to any new noninfringing version that Microsoft releases.

"Immediate is pretty quick," Silver said. "It would be nice if there was some sort of time line that says you have to do it within six months or a year."

51 comments

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Upgrade away from office!
Do yourself a favor and before you think about buying another copy of MS Office try openoffice.org office suite. It will open as and save as Microsoft office docs. Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc..

If you are a business that needs a supported product try sun.com/staroffice Better support, better price.

KM
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag
fanboy!!
look another M$ hater leading his fellow troops into war against microsoft.
Posted by mrpeabody3119 (101 comments )
Link Flag
Patent Infringments
No software or vendor is immune to patent disputes, including open office/Star office. Just because it is free/open doesn't mean someone won't try to claim a patent dispute. It has happened before on open source platforms.
Posted by bits4bites (13 comments )
Link Flag
MS spinning straw into gold. What GAUL.
Have they no shame?
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
d@mmed if they do d@mmed if they don't
If they weren't trying to push the changes out people would be up in arms about them ignoring court orders.
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
What are you talking about?
You can go to officeupdate.com and download all the latest service packs/updates for free. You don't even have to know what patch level you're at, just click the look for updates button, a la windowsupdate. People always overlook security in Office products for some reason. I always download the latest patches, since MS shares so many DLLs between apps/system level, a vulnerability in one is a vulnerability in the other.
Posted by wbrianwhite (12 comments )
Link Flag
Multiple Exports... Will they go wonky?
I often use Access to create my Databases, but when I have to cross reference a formula on a spreadsheet I'm exporting back and forth. I also use that same data and create comma dilimeted CSV files. Will the fix cause my CSV files to go wonky? Anyone know. Don't see anything on the Microsoft Updates page or Access support on their office site.
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
INDEMNIFICATION?
Will Microsoft cover the cost of all their clients migrating from their existing Office installs to a new one?
Posted by kynada (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No.
Indemnification only covers patent infringement
claims against the end-user do to infringement
on the part of MS, and only until the day MS
releases a non-infringing copy or -- if making
an non-infringing copy is not possible --
revokes your license.

If somebody had thought to patent WYSIWYG text
editing, for example, and sat on that patent
until today, MS would either pay whatever the
patent holder wanted, or revoke your license to
Word -- whichever made the most fiscal sense.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Link Flag
What cost?
Go to officeupdate.com. Click find updates. Install. You really need to be compensated for that 5 minutes of your time?
Posted by wbrianwhite (12 comments )
Link Flag
Oh I see
You must work at a large company that is very careful to not upgrade blindly to the next Office security patches.

And yet has managed to build systems critical infrastructure on top of excel and access. Ha Ha!
Posted by wbrianwhite (12 comments )
Link Flag
Did I miss something?
Or did the story not even tell us what functionality will be affected?
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
vague
No, you're right Jim. The story just noted how Access and Excel spreadsheets interact, and left it at that
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Link Flag
Here is more info on the lawsuit
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/06/07/microsoft_pays_excel_man/" target="_newWindow">http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/06/07/microsoft_pays_excel_man/</a>
"In 1990 Carlos Armando Amado filed a patent for software which helped transfer data between Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft's Access database using a single spreadsheet. He said he tried to sell this technology to Microsoft in 1992 but they turned him down. According to Amado, Microsoft started including his software in their releases between 1995 and 2002."
Posted by JoeF2 (1306 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft trending towards losing
So Microsoft, with all its legal bravado, loses to one guy in Guatemala. He didn't sell to Microsoft - he made them take out the technology.

I think the world is tired of Microsoft trying to circumvent and bend the rules and regulations through legal and financial attrition.

The EU and US are both figuring out how to penalize Microsoft for its failure to abide by the antitrust rulings.

I predict a trend where Microsoft starts losing more than they win. The generation that was ignorant about how Microsoft did business back when is on its way out, and the new generation, which is acutely aware, is now in.

It'll be interesting to see how the next several (new) cases turn out.
Posted by cagerattler (72 comments )
Reply Link Flag
8.9 meg? not a big hit
Bill just got from India promising to invest tens of BILLIONS.

Wanna know what Microsoft will look like in ten years?

Look at IBM... old, fat, and of course, too wealthy to care.
Posted by gmycyk191 (32 comments )
Link Flag
Karma
Pity Microsoft for drumming up the issue of software patents in the FUD against open source. Now it seems they are on the receiving end of patent suits.

Oops, there goes another $4 Billion to settle another round of claims.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Generation? Astute??
Give me a break. Have you really SEEN this "new generation"? The generation that sits there and COMPLETES their personal conversation before they assist you at the cash register and then proceed to snap their gum and speak to others instead of hand your change back?

Or is it the generation that cant seem to do more than one thing at one time without getting so confused that they stop everything altogether?

Or it is the generation that rudely cuts you off on the highway because - well, just because they feel like getting off the road all of a sudden FROM THE LEFTMOST LANE of a 4 lane freeway.

Or is it the generation who listens to opinion and doesnt investigate FACT? The generation that thinks they are ENTITLED to anything just because it exists. The generation who's parents didnt give two darns about them because they were ABSENT during their formative years......

You had better thank the Microsoft generation because THEY are the ones who have created the jobs you're all in, the PC's your all using or programming or fixing or building. THEY are the ones who created this software economy and the gadgets and the widgets and all the stuff that you're entitlement-complex tells you to "need".

Learn some respect. Respect doesnt always equate to LIKING the person. And remember, you arent as important as you think you are. The world will continue to spin when you're long gone.

This comes from a the generation BEFORE you, who, cant stand you folks and, no, doesnt LIKE you one bit but respects your opinion - as wrong as it is.
Posted by MS789 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WTF?
Did you forget to take your meds today gramps? I see absolutely no correlation between anything you just wrote and this story.
Posted by wbrianwhite (12 comments )
Link Flag
Not the "New Generation"
The things you cite are not exclusive to the "New Generation"
you're talking about. Those things happened before the "New
Generation" was born and will continue to happen after they die.
Those things are part of human nature.
Posted by nightveil (133 comments )
Link Flag
What are you blathering about?
Sorry, but in the REAL WORLD where major updates (which this is) are not rolled out without extensive testing, this change is going to cost actual money. You may work in a tiny company where IT is run by a couple of MCSE drop outs, but I don't and it is clear now that Microsoft's concept of "indemnification" does not cover the costs that customers end up having to absorb when Microsoft violates other people's patents.
Posted by kynada (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS Office customers deserve what they are getting
How many years have pundits been telling the world that using Microsoft technologies is a bad idea. Not only is MS Office the only Office product that spreads viruses, but virtually every Microsoft product is stolen technology. Just because you pay rediculous amounts of $'s to Microsoft for stolen technology doesn't mean it is OK to use.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hate Microsoft much?
Your whole post wreaks of blind Microsoft hatred. So allow me to retort:

"How many years have pundits been telling the world that using Microsoft technologies is a bad idea. Not only is MS Office the only Office product that spreads viruses, but virtually every Microsoft product is stolen technology."

Yeah, so many people say that using Microsoft technology is a bad idea. It's such a bad idea that everyone from small business to huge Fortune 100 companies have standardized on it.

Furthermore, just because you have infringed on a patent does not mean that you have stolen technology. That is a foolish notion especially in the world of software patents and therefore you sir are a fool.

"Just because you pay rediculous amounts of $'s to Microsoft for stolen technology doesn't mean it is OK to use."

Wow, I can only respond to this by making an equally *ridiculous* statement: Would you rather people use Linux, an OS that helps spread communism? Or MacOSuX (the OS for gay people)?
Posted by 206538395198018178908092208948 (141 comments )
Link Flag
Just may be
For quiet sometime now Microsoft has been called to open up its code, thinking seriously on this infringement, could Microsoft's refusal be because of other stolen codes around the world? Time will tell
Posted by kiitaniyiola (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Open What?
I suppose one of you open office n*zis will eventually tell me what part of open office replaces Access, which is what this is all about. Oh wait, there is nothing in open office that replaces Access. Not that there are no more or less open source databases, BUT THEY ARE NOT OPENOFFICE. Nor do any of them do most of what access does. So *** are you all babbling about?
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your only reason for buying MS Office is Access?
No one is talking about replacing MS Office with OpenOffice.org

Install OpenOffice, its free. For heaven's sake don't be compelled to remove your licensed MS Office from your computer.

Now, if you need to shell out $300 to license MS Office...hmmm, perhaps you'll really consider that openoffice.org is free.

I don't think many people would be impressed by your defense of Access. It is certainly a well developed part of MS Office, but it is nowhere near an excellent database.

If that's your only reason for getting MS Office, perhaps you could consider using OpenOffice.org for the Word Processor, Presentations, and Spreadsheet, then get a real database: Filemaker Pro.

After all if you're willing to shell out $300 for MS Office, you might as well just get OpenOffice for free and spend half that money for Filemaker Pro, a product called by "PC Computing" as far superior to Access and even to MS SQL Server for installations of 1,000 or less.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Antagonism
What an antagonistic way to start a comment.

Anyway, there *is* something to replace access. As of OO2.0 there is Base which has it's own engine, plus, if it's not powerful enough for you, actually supports many other databases natively [Adabas D, ADO, Microsoft Access, MySQL, or any database through industry-standard ODBC and JDBC drivers]

Why not try and broaden your small-minded (oh wait, should that be close minded?) view of the world. Actually do some friggin research before you spout off. you'll look like less of an idiot.
Posted by joshuasmythe (32 comments )
Link Flag
What goes around....
Taste that? Yes, that is sweet isn't it?
Posted by shant sherbetdjian (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Open Idiot
Lets see. As Joshua smuggly points out, there is BASE in OO2. Nirvana. But wait. Maybe not quite ready for prime time. OO2 seems to be still only a release candidate. Unstable at that. Wow. You would replace a mature 10 year old product because you had to download a patch with an unstable release candidate of something else? Based on XML files. With what to replace Visual Basic? ( You know taht most Access applivcations of any scope have extensive internal VB code I assume) Oh, and way at teh bottom of teh page it says BASE supports Access as a back end. Because it is lacking in and of itself?. And you would use this lashup for anything more critical than tracking your casino on line winnings? ROTFLMAO. Actually think of what you are saying before you spout off. YOU will look less like an idiot.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free Databases
Any of the following databases are free and far more powerful than Access:

Larry started it all:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Oracle+to+offer+free+database/2100-1012_3-5920796.html?tag=nl" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Oracle+to+offer+free+database/2100-1012_3-5920796.html?tag=nl</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/IBM+sets+DB2+database+free/2100-1012_3-6032676.html" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/IBM+sets+DB2+database+free/2100-1012_3-6032676.html</a>

IBM on Monday introduced a free version of its DB2 database, a move designed to win software developers over to its products.

DB2 Express-C is the same database as IBM's commercial offerings but the company places limits on what kind of hardware it can run on.

It can be deployed on systems with two processor cores or up to two dual-core chips on Advanced Micro Devices- or Intel-based servers. The memory limit is 4GB but there are no limits on the size of database or number of users.

IBM's decision to add a free database to its lineup follows moves by its largest rivals in the database business, Oracle and Microsoft.

With the release of SQL Server 2005 late last year, Microsoft introduced a free version. Similarly, Oracle has a free product called Oracle 10g Express Edition.

The three corporate-database providers are all seeking to appeal to software developers, who help influence companies' technology decisions. In addition, open-source databases, which generally include a free edition, have risen in popularity in the past year.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Microsoft+launches+long-awaited+updates/2100-1012_3-5937419.html?tag=nl" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Microsoft+launches+long-awaited+updates/2100-1012_3-5937419.html?tag=nl</a>

In addition to the standard products, Microsoft announced a free "express," or stripped-down, version of SQL Server and a $49 express version of Visual Studio. Oracle last week said it was making a free, limited version of its database available.

So, what exactly about Access compels you to buy MS Office for $300?
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Are you twelve?
I chided you (look up the word if it's outside your vocab) for not researching before you post. So what do you do? Exactly the same thing. Is OO2 a release candidate? Uh... No. It came out of RC ages ago. It is currently on 2.0.1, stable.

Perhaps you meant the version that was released for the Intel based Mac's? Perhaps, but then that's just because you don't bother reading (or perhaps it's more a comprehension problem, should I be trying to keep this post down to monosyllables?)
* OOo 2.0.1 for Mac Intel (X86) (alpha)
* OOo 2.0.1 for Mac PowerPC (stable)
I'll quote the website:
"2.0.1, our first update to 2.0, remedies minor bugs and brings new features."
Definitely past RC status.

I also fail to see your point about XML files? MSOffice is moving to XML too. Should I not trust them either?

So it supports access as a backend, what's your point. Oh wait, you don't have one. It also supports many other databases natively. This is to provide the end user with choice, something MS does not do. I don't see why you support them with such veracity (oh sorry, i'll rephrase). I don't see why you support them so much. People are dedicating their time to work on something that they love, for free. Why not give them your support, or at the very least, respect?

You say, "ROTFLMAO". My rebuttal, "Does your dad know you're using his computer?"
Posted by joshuasmythe (32 comments )
Link Flag
Microsofts actions have created a far more Serious Danger, here...
Due to Microsofts claim that software is, somehow, simply not actually a product, and that consumers are only "licensing" its use, when they legitimately pay for it, ...a very serious threat is looming for every computer-owner. Furthermore, Microsofts attempts to enforce such, insane, "intellectual-property" claims... may well be setting-up consumers for an even bigger shock in the near future.

Once "Trusted Computing", and "DRM", are fully in place, it will be possible for any judge to "order" Microsoft to temporarily, or even permanently, DISABLE your software (oops, I mean Microsofts "Intellectual Property") because of some legal-dispute, or a resultant "injunction", over virtually any "Patent claim" or "Copyright dispute".

Imagine going to your computer, and trying to launch "MS-Office", or even "MS-Windows", itself, only to be told that, during the "Trusted Softwares" mandatory "license-check", the software-use had to be prevented due to a "court-order". This isnt really far fetched. Judges HAVE ALREADY ordered several technology-companies to "halt" certain "user actions", and even to "modify" the "services" in order to allow monitoring and control of "users" (even when the courts demands where technologically difficult, or even, IMPOSSIBLE).

And, all of this is the direct result of the entirely ridiculous assertion, that consumers dont own, what the have legally paid-for (...if, that is, a company claims that the product is some form of, so-called, "...intellectual property", or "...service").

After all, "Ford" could not require you to stop driving your truck because of a patent-dispute with "Toyota". And, "Barnes and Noble" could not demand that you return a book, because of another authors "Copyright infringement" claim. Nor could a hardware-store tell you that you cannot sell your "used" shovel, once you are through with it.

This issue will become an even greater threat, if Microsoft manages to fully-deploy their stated "software as a service" (and perpetual-payment) model. In this model computer users will apparently never possess an actual "full copy" of any Microsoft software (which the Supreme Court, recently said, DOES give consumers "property-ownership rights"). Instead, consumers will run "clients" which, through network-access to Microsoft-servers, will allow people to use their computers, ...for APPROVED uses, ...for a monthly-fee (as long as Microsoft considers the "service" to be advantageous for Microsoft, that is). The potential abuses of consumers by such a "model", by both "media-companies" AND our current "court-system", ...is simply MIND-NUMBING.

Frankly, Id like to see a firm legal-standing that "software" IS a "product". And that consumers DO, therefore, legally-possess all established "First Sale-Doctrine" rights.

In my opinion, these issues need to be finally-addressed BEFORE this THREAT becomes an even bigger market, and industry, DISASTER.
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The erroneous basic assumption
The erroneous basic assumption of many software companies is that they hold all the intellectual property of their software and the stuff you create with it.

I use office productivity software to create market plans, business studies, and more. I would like to think that there is certainly IP value in those works.

When software companies start thinking in terms of being able to unilaterally revoke your license for any reason (e.g. patents), and denying you access to your intellectual property, it is far worse than an automaker installing a chip in your car that can shut it down in the case of a patent dispute.

Software companies revoking your license and preventing you from accessing your IP in your documents is like locking you out of your home and office too.

Until TPM and DRM, this was more a theoretical threat. After all, your software will still run even if the publisher says they've revoked your license.

But, as you've pointed out, with TPM and DRM, you might wake up one day to find that your software has been "switched off" and you can't access YOUR intellectual property in YOUR documents.

This is the rational of the OASIS and Open Document standards, that your Intellectual Property, stuff you create using Software as TOOLS, will not be held hostage to the whims, travails, missteps, and caprices of software companies.

Read the rationale of the State of Massachusetts for choosing OpenDocument Formats: It's not the cost of licensing, since commercial software can use ODF, but its the danger of having imporatnt documents locked up in formats that may not be accessible in the future for any reason.

Can you imagine how few paintings will be left if paint manufacturers felt they had the right to take back their paint after it had been applied to canvas?
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
I expect that I'm legally incorrect....
.... but I consider any computer program I buy to be my property,
as is any documents or ther output that I use that program to
create. Essentially, to hell with the EULA if it doesn't agree. And if
MS or any other publisher wants to object, I'm not interested.

And from now on, I will try to choose software that doesn't try to
extent the grasp of the publisher into my business. I don't know if I
will be legally successful, but when legal doesn't work, screw legal.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
State of Mass was right
Seems that the State was right in rejecting MS documents for these very reasons, and they should be rejecting pdf for the same reason.

And Joshua should look up the word veracity before using it. He probably had one of the other long V words in mind. Vociferously maybe.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What can I say?
Firstly, below each comment is a "reply to story" link and a "reply to comment" link, try and tell the difference between the two.

State of Mass. has chosen opendocument and pdf as the two formats that information has to be saved in. Opendocument is an XML-based document. They were rejecting MS not because ms is now also XML-based but because MS based documents lock you into buying MS software.

I fail to see why you have a problem with XML-based documents? Do you know the pros and cons of this format? I'll give you a hint, go here <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xml#Strengths_and_weaknesses" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xml#Strengths_and_weaknesses</a> and actually try *learn* something for a change.

Maybe State of Mass should just reject all document formats, they could require everyone to carve into stone tablets, then they could avoid all those pesky document formats that are so inferior.

Hmmmmm....
Posted by joshuasmythe (32 comments )
Link Flag
"ALLEGEDLY INFRINGING"
A COURT OF LAW FOUND SEVERAL TIMES THAT THE CODE WAS OBVIOUSLY INFRINGING ON THEIR PATENT....YET MICROSOFT STILL CALLS IT "ALLEGEDLY INFRINGING" Microsoft walked into MY companies offices, seized $26million dollars worth of my software I paid millions for, based on the word of a psychopathic drug addict who had 3inch fingernails and never bathed, had the police INCINERATE it, under protest that it was not illegal and without a hearing...not to mention the fact that they seized an additional 10X as much software from me that they never returned. Maybe they should just seize and incinerate the entire Microsoft corporation without a hearing based on this "allegedly infringing" software like they did mine!
Posted by Quickshiper (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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