Microsoft sues Salesforce.com, alleging patent infringement

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Microsoft filed a lawsuit against Salesforce.com in Washington State federal court on May 18, alleging the CRM software-as-a-service provider infringed on nine of its patents.

“We have a responsibility to our customers, partners and shareholders to safeguard that investment and therefore cannot stand idly by when others infringe our IP rights,” said Horacio Gutierrez, corporate VP and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, in a statement.

Microsoft did not comment further, and Salesforce.com declined comment when reached by DMNews.

The patents in question are not specific to CRM, although Microsoft and Salesforce.com are competitors in that space. Microsoft Dynamics CRM clients include Pepsi, Gibson guitars and Seventh Generation.

Salesforce.com clients include Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Starbucks and Dell. It acquired business data provider Jigsaw April 21 for $142 million.

Microsoft claims Salesforce.com infringed on patents titled “System and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu” and “Method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display,” as well as other back-end items.

“Its going to take a long time to resolve – it could take years to sort it out,” said Greg Boyd, an associate in the new media department at law firm Davis & Gilbert LLP. “It's also interesting because Microsoft isn't normally a plaintiff in patent cases, it's normally a defendant. But there are zero immediate effects.”

Boyd's colleague Michael Lasky, co-chair of the litigation department at Davis & Gilbert, notes a request for “preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to stop Salesforce.com from further infringing on the patent” is also part of the suit.

“The key thing is to see if Microsoft at some point in the not-so-distant future files a court application for injunctive relief,” Lasky adds. “Merely putting it in the complaint as something they might ultimately seek is not self-executing.”

If Microsoft obtains such an injunction, Salesforce would have to shut down its services, Boyd and Lasky said. However, this process would also take a long time.

“It's not an easy thing to get,” Lasky explained. “Microsoft will have to show the court not that it has a 51% chance it will win, but that there is a high likelihood of success, and that it cannot simply be compensated by monetary damages. That's the burden of proof.”

It's likely the suit will end with a monetary settlement, Boyd said.

“It's impossible to fully understand [Microsoft's motivations],” he added. “When you have a couple pharmaceutical companies against one another, the reasons are clear — but with anything less than that, it's irresponsible to speculate.”

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