Imagine a World Without Word

A judge ordered Microsoft to pay $290 million and stop selling Word

A U.S. District Court ruling has the potential to do the unthinkable -- sink Microsoft.

The computer giant has been hit with patent infringement and has just 60 days to stop selling copies of Microsoft Word.

Hundreds of millions of computer users employ Microsoft Word and even 80 percent of Mac users run it.

“That's their bread and butter, they need to be able to sell it to survive, so if they have to pay millions of dollars to make sure that happens, they will,” associate editor Jennifer Van Grove said.

i4i, a company based in Toronto, filed for a patent in 1998. Then in 2007, i4i hit Microsoft with a lawsuit, saying Word violated that patent. Microsoft lost, and this week a judge ordered them to pay $290 million, and stop selling Word altogether. The effects of that decision could be felt around the world.

“It's used in all businesses; it's on most personal computers.  Word is just something that we all use day in and day out,” Van Grove said. “I'm sure you get e-mails with Microsoft Word attachments all the time. It's what consumers know to use for word processing.”

Microsoft says it will appeal the ruling. However, according to Information Week, members of the Microsoft Word development team knew about i4i's technology as far back as 2003, and promised (via e-mails) to "make it obsolete." If that's true, Microsoft may have to settle out-of-court.

In the unlikely event Microsoft does have to pull Word off shelves permanently, what takes its place? Google docs is probably the frontrunner, but it would be a tough transition.

“Are consumers ready for that? No absolutely not. A lot of different companies are starting to experiment with Google Docs, but consumers want what they know.  They know Microsoft Word, they've been using it forever,” Van Grove said.

So, could this be a catastrophic event in the computing world?

“It could be, but it won't because Microsoft will nip it in the bud,” Van Grove said.

One analyst described this as the ultimate David and Goliath scenario, and it's true. Worldwide, Microsoft has more than 80,000 employees. i4i has 30.

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