SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - Microsoft must face claims that its spell- and grammar-check functions infringe on patents deemed invalid 12 years ago but since reissued, a federal judge ruled.
Virginia-based software company Sentius sued Microsoft over patents allegedly used in the computer giant's Office and Word programs. Sentius claims the patents involve a contextual reference engine that provides content for pop-up windows in Microsoft's spell-check, auto-correct, grammar-check, synonym and smart-tag features.
But Microsoft argued that a federal judge had deemed two of the asserted patents invalid in 2002, during a patent infringement fight between Sentius and the now-defunct Flyswat Inc.
Although Sentius corrected the deficiencies and reissued the patents, Microsoft said it also broadened the claim language - something only allowed within the first two years after a patent is issued - and lobbied for dismissal.
Denying Microsoft's motion Friday, however, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal found Sentius' changes largely clerical in nature and thus allowed after the two-year statutory limit.
Grewal also noted that four examiners from the Patent and Trademark Office have already examined the reissues and found they complied with the law - creating questions that must be presented to a jury.
"At bottom, whatever its wisdom, Congress established a liberal mechanism for fixing otherwise invalid patents and the Federal Circuit has made it clear that some substantive mending beyond the typographical beyond two years is permitted," Grewal wrote. "Given Microsoft's burden of proof and the existence of a genuine disputed factual issue as to whether the fixes to the structural problems of the claim would have been immediately apparent to a person having ordinary skill in the art, trial on the invalidity of the reissue patents is required."
A jury trial is set for Feb. 16, 2015.