Microsoft HQ

Microsoft today said that retailers can continue to sell unmodified versions of Word 2007, even though a court order that required the company to remove custom XML technology from the software took effect Monday.

"Retailers who had already purchased their inventory from Microsoft are permitted to continue selling those copies," said Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz today in an email reply to questions after we noticed online sellers such as selling boxed copies Office 2007 this week.

Microsoft was barred from selling Word 2003 and Word 2007 after a jury last May said it illegally used custom XML technology owned by Canadian developer i4i. The judge who oversaw the patent infringement lawsuit awarded i4i nearly $300 million (£180m) in damages and court costs, and in August slapped an injunction on Microsoft.

According to that injunction, which was affirmed by an appeals court last month, Microsoft is barred from "selling, offering to sell and/or importing in or into the United States any Infringing and Future Word Products that have the capability of opening a .XML, .DOCX, or .DOCM file ('an XML file') containing custom XML."

For its part, Microsoft moved to comply with the court order by pulling all versions of Office 2007 for Windows and Office 2008 for Mac from its own online store. Since then, Microsoft has restored to the store download copies of many of its Office editions. But it has not yet begun selling boxed copies, which are to be replaced with ones that have had the offending technology removed.

"The packaged version of this product is temporarily out of stock causing a shipping delay," the Microsoft store states on the page for Office Home and Student 2007. "Alternatively, this product is currently available for download."

Loudon Owen, the chairman of i4i, declined to claim that the continued sales of unchanged copies of Word are a violation of the injunction, but he clearly was concerned. "In terms of the actual compliance, we're doing our analysis right now," he said. "We're looking at what Microsoft is doing, not only with the product, but the full scope of the injunction."

The injunction also prevents Microsoft from using the custom XML technology internally, marketing Word as capable of opening documents with custom XML, or providing support to anyone who bought the software after January 10.

"The injunction is pretty clear," said Owen. "It prevents Microsoft from 'selling, offering to sell, and importing Word into the US," he continued. "That's pretty broad, but we're not in a position to judge compliance based on press releases from Microsoft."

i4i would have several options if it did decide that Microsoft wasn't complying with the injunction, Owen said, ticking off a legal move that would ask the court to place Microsoft in contempt, and one that was more direct. "It's not unthinkable that we would speak with Microsoft," he said. "But we just don't know. This is the first time that we have sued anybody like this."