What is "Custom XML?" ... and the impact of the i4i judgment on Word

I recall saying recently that "this is my last post for 2009." Whoops... I don't think I was anticipating this. I watched with interest yesterday the coverage and reaction to the i4i judgment. I am not keen to share my own thoughts about the case here, but I would like to offer clarity around the specific area of Word in question, and suggestions for what people can do about it if they are using that functionality today. There is much confusion about the part of Word that is actually affected.

First, some things to understand:

We do not anticipate any interruption in the availability of Word or Office 2007. Additionally this ruling has no impact on the scheduled availability of the 2010 Office version which is planned for the first half of CY2010.

Current users are not affected. If you are using the custom XML tags in Word 2003 or 2007 (these show up in Word as Pink Tags around tagged content), you are free to continue doing so with the products you have already purchased.

Open XML standards (all ECMA and ISO versions) are not affected. Even if Word's specific implementation of custom XML support does infringe the i4i patent (which Microsoft does not believe to be the case), i4i has never claimed that its patent is essential to the OXML standard.

Content Controls of Word (screen shot below) are not affected. In Word 2007 and Word 2010, this is a common method of binding document content to data stored in a custom-defined schema within a document.


The functionality that is in question is indicated by the screen shot below. Custom XML Tags in Word documents are visible in the Word user interface as Pink Tags surrounding tagged content in a document.


What you can do if you have questions about your solutions that use Custom XML Tags:

First, download the Office 2010 beta and test your solution. If your solution works in Office 2010, it does not depend on the functionality in question. If your solution does utilize Custom XML Tags, consider re-implementing the solution using Content Controls. Detailed guidance on the use of Content Controls in Word 2007 can be found here. Also note the Word Content Controls Toolkit on CodePlex. The Open XML SDK, of course, is quite useful for getting people up to speed on developing solutions for Word and Open XML.

Update: Additional Detail

In response to several inquiries on the topic, I have included additional text describing the feature area that is affected vs. what is not affected, including links to KB articles which illustrate the capabilities in more detail.


Word 2003 and Word 2007 distributed prior to 1/11/2010 can read files that contain XML markup (ref: “Understanding Word's XML Markup [Word 2003 XML Reference]”, http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa212889(office.11).aspx. When custom XML markup is present, Word delineates this content in a Word document which allows it to later save the file to .DOCX, .DOCM, or .XML with that content marked up.

The Word 2007 product distributed by Microsoft after 1/10/2010 will no longer read the Custom XML markup contained within .DOCX, .DOCM, or .XML files. These files will continue to open, but the Custom XML markup tags will be removed. Custom XML markup stored within .DOC files will not be affected by these changes. Word 2003 and existing installations of Word 2007 will not be affected by this change.

 Not Affected:

Word 2007 also added features allowing Content Controls to map to XML data stored in a DOCX or DOCM file (ref: “Mapping Word 2007 Content Controls to Custom XML Using the XML Mapping Object”, http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb510135.aspx). Content Controls and XML data stored within DOCX or DOCM files will not be affected by this change.