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Piracy of anti-piracy?

An Australian inventor, who was awarded the fifth highest patent jury awards in US history of $US388 million in April, is now set to receive nothing after a US Appeals Court judge decided to “vacate” the jury’s decision.

Ric Richardson’s Singapore-based software company Uniloc sued Microsoft in 2003 for infringing its patent relating to anti-piracy software technology he designed while working as a sound programmer for major bands like INXS and John Denver in the 1980s.The technology in debate relates to the use of a software activation key to prevent users from installing licensed software on unauthorised computers. Richardson’s patent further covers a software registration system that allows software designers to create free trial versions of their software. Users satisfied with the trial version may make payment to receive a registration key that unlocks the full featured version of the software.

Uniloc alleged Microsoft declined Richardson’s licensing offer after a demonstration of the patented software in 1993, instead developing and incorporating an identical version in its Windows XP and Office programs.

In October 2007, a Rhode Island court ruled in Microsoft’s favour. Uniloc appealed to the U.S. District Court for the Federal Circuit, and in 2008 the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling but required it to re-examine part of the case.

In April 2009, a jury found that Microsoft infringed Uniloc’s patent US 5,490,216. The ruling required Microsoft to pay $388 million in damages to Uniloc, the fifth highest patent jury award in US history, although it represents a mere eight days’ profit for the global giant behind the ubiquitous Windows programs.

The latest judgment made by a US Appeals Court on 30th September upended that ruling in favour of Microsoft.

In a statement, Uniloc CEO Brad Davis said the company plans to appeal again.