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South Korean patent ruling threatens MS Office

Professor seeking damages of £39m

Microsoft may have to pull its Office suite from shelves in South Korea, after losing a patent lawsuit in that country.

Several news outlets reported yesterday that a South Korean Supreme Court ruling on Friday refused a request from Microsoft that patents obtained by Hankuk Aviation University professor Lee Keung-Haie in 1997 be nullified.

The decision strengthens the case of Lee and the company acting as his agent, called P&IB, which filed for damages against Microsoft in 2000 for infringing on Lee's patents, according to a report by AFP (Agence France-Presse).

Now that Microsoft's request has been struck down, P&IB leader Kim Kil-Hae said the company and Lee have a better chance of winning damages in their lawsuit and of stopping the sale of the version of Office that includes the patented technology, according to a report by AFP. Lee and P&IB are seeking damages of 70bn won, or about £39m.

In an emailed statement through its public-relations firm, Microsoft said it does not anticipate any interruption in the sales of Office in Korea, and was positive about its chance in the current infringement case that is still pending.

Lee and P&IB filed suit against Microsoft in 2000 for infringing on Lee's patents for technologies that automatically switch the input mode of Office between the Korean and English languages. That case remains unsettled in an appeals court after Microsoft filed a separate lawsuit attempting to invalidate Lee's patents.

The patent dispute is just one of Microsoft's legal woes in South Korea. In May, South Korea ruled against Microsoft in an antitrust case, forcing the company to sell a version of its Windows OS (operating system) without its media player and instant-messaging programs, after finding that their inclusion breached antitrust laws.

An antitrust case in Europe also has not gone well for the software vendor. In March 2004, the EC (European Commission) ruled that Microsoft must sell Windows without media player software in the EU (European Union) to compete fairly with rivals there. The ruling also ordered Microsoft to provide information that allows rival server software vendors to design server products that interoperate well with Windows PCs.

Microsoft is still embroiled in its legal battle with the EC and continues to file documents to prove it is complying with the antitrust ruling. The EC fined Microsoft $357m (£184m) in July for failing to comply with the antitrust order, and could face more fines of up to $3m (£1.5m) per day if it does not meet the EC's latest deadline to prove compliance.

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