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In what’s being billed as the fifth-largest patent award in historyâ€”and the second largest this yearâ€”a federal jury in Rhode Island on Wednesday ordered Microsoft to pay $388 million to Uniloc USA Inc. and Uniloc Singapore Private Ltd. for infringing a software patent.
The software patent deals with unique licensing and registration of software, such as Microsoft’s product activation codes (the large string of digits you enter to register your software). The patent itself says:
In broad terms, the system according to the invention is designed and adapted to allow digital data or software to run in a use mode on a platform if and only if an appropriate licensing procedure has been followed. In particular forms, the system includes means for detecting when parts of the platform on which the digital data has been loaded has changed in part or in entirety as compared with the platform parameters when the software or digital data to be protected was for example last booted or run or validly registered.
According to The Patent Prospector, the case had gone up to an appeals court earlier, after an earlier trial judge granted summary judgment against Uniloc:
Uniloc sued Microsoft for infringing 5,490,216, claiming an anti-piracy software registration system. Microsoft’s product activation system was accused. The district court judge granted summary judgment of non-infringement despite concession by Microsoft.
The appeals court sent it back down to the district court after the appeals court wrote,
Microsoft presented “several alternative grounds for affirming the summary judgment beyond those which were reached by the district court. We have considered these arguments and conclude they are without merit.”
– Uniloc USA, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., C.A. No. 03-440 S, slip op. at 24 (D.R.I. Oct. 19, 2007)
Back at trial in the district court, the jury (not the judge, as some news stories said) found infringement by Microsoft and awarded large damages to Uniloc.
I am generally doubtful of software patents as a whole, but I don’t know enough about the field of product activation to judge the novelty, etc. of this patent, nor do I know anything about Microsoft’s potential infringement. My gut feeling after reading through the patent (and having registered software as a user at least), though, is that it is, at the very least, overbroad in its claims.
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