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Patent Problems Crash Third Parties

After 25 years as an IT journalist, I've seen a million patent and copyright lawsuits like the one from i4i. Often, a patent holder demands royalties. Sometimes they get a part of what they ask for, and sometimes they get beaten down by high-priced lawyers.

Some of these claims are legit. If I invented something that an IBM or Oracle used, I'd want some scratch. In other cases, entrepreneurs buy up patents then go after anyone that even comes close to infringing.

That may be the case with Gary Odom, a former Microsoft worker who is now seeking big Microsoft bucks. Apparently, Odom's job in Redmond was to protect Microsoft from these suits, and as part of his contract he agreed not to sue Microsoft himself. Instead, Odom snagged patents that he now claims Office 2007 and its ribbon interface violate.

Microsoft is a big company, and if it can handle the U.S. government, it can handle Odom. But one third party confided in me recently that Odom was, until recently, going after them. This startup needed money for development, marketing and sales. Instead, they were looking at monster legal fees. Odom let them off the hook, but apparently is still going after Microsoft third parties, especially in the development space.

When IBM was threatened with a similar suit, it quickly moved to indemnify customers and, I believe, partners. I'd love to see Microsoft do the same here! As it stands, a trial is set for next year, my source reports.

Posted by Doug Barney on 08/17/2009 at 1:17 PM


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