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Ouch

We can't believe it, but we're actually starting to feel a bit sorry for Microsoft. The software giant can't seem to do anything quite right at the moment; its vital update to the Windows Phone service became a patchy mess of confusion; its Zune player has bitten the dust; and now it's been fined £178 million in a dispute over patents.

Yes, you read that right, £178 million. In fairness, it does sound like Microsoft is kind of bang to rights on this one. Word 2003 and 2007 use a feature called structured XML to shape documents, but a company named i4i holds a patent on the technology. The two had discussed a deal, but never struck one. Microsoft used the technology anyway. Unsurprisingly, i4i sued and were granted a $290 million - $178 million - win by the courts.

But Microsoft's high-end lawyers don't give in that easily. They took the case to the US Supreme Court, arguing - well, we're not quite sure what they were arguing. As CNET tries to explain:

The company behind Windows and Word then took the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to lower the standard of evidence required to prove patent infringement. Microsoft's original case failed because the legal team was unable to show that a clear majority of the evidence supported their argument, so argued for a change in patent law to require that only half the evidence needs to be in the defendant's favour.

If you're confused, don't worry: just read that last sentence five times, spin around twice, and try to run in a straight line. Film yourself and upload it to YouTube for extra hilarity.

Unsurprisingly, the court was having precisely none of this. On Friday the Supremes confirmed the fine, leaving Microsoft nearly £200 million poorer. Of course, for a company that made £3bn profits last quarter that's not a crisis. Maybe we don't feel that bad for Microsoft after all.

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