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Microsoft actually lost two cases this week in Washington, D.C. On June 5, two days before U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered the breakup of the $371 billion Microsoft Corp., a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a 75-year-old former IBM patent lawyer who says the company violated his patents. Martin G. Reiffin of Danville, Calif., persuaded a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to reinstate his suit claiming that Word and other popular Microsoft programs violated his patents for “multithreading.” That’s the process by which, for example, Microsoft Word automatically checks spelling and grammar while users type. The Federal Circuit remanded the case to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California, who threw out Reiffin’s suit soon after it was filed in 1998. The case could be worth millions. “I hope so,” says Reiffin, who says he started tinkering with software and electronics when he left IBM in the late 1970s. He’s made a living licensing a high-fidelity amplifier patent. Reiffin started trying to patent the multithreading technology in 1982. It took three applications and three appeals to the patent review board, but Reiffin was awarded two patents in 1997. Walker granted summary judgment to Microsoft, invalidating Reiffin’s patent claims as being broader than his 1982 written description of the process. In a per curiam decision, Federal Circuit Judges Pauline Newman, Paul Michel, and Alvin Schall ruled that Reiffin’s 1982 application was irrelevant, since the patent claims awarded to Reiffin came from subsequent applications he made in 1990 and 1994. At issue when the case gets back to Walker will be whether Reiffin’s patent claims were novel and non-obvious when he made his 1990 and 1994 applications. Microsoft remains confident. The company argues that Reiffin disclosed the elements of his invention before 1990. If true, that could invalidate his patents. “We basically believe Mr. Reiffin won’t be able to overcome his earlier admissions from before 1990,” says Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan. “Mr. Reiffin’s claims are baseless.” Reiffin has represented himself throughout the case, though he got help writing his Federal Circuit brief from Edward O’Connor of Newport Beach, Calif.’s Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Microsoft has used John Vandenberg of Portland, Ore.’s Klarquist Sparkman Campbell Leigh & Whinston. San Francisco’s Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe represented the company at trial.

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