Novel to appeal antitrust case against Microsoft

Judge dismisses last claims in Novell Inc.'s 'WordPerfect' lawsuit against Microsoft

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge dismissed the final legal claims Monday by a Utah company that sued Microsoft Corp. for $1 billion over the WordPerfect writing program.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz ruled that Novell has no viable claims left after losing an eight-week trial against Microsoft in Salt Lake City last year.

Microsoft believes the ruling spells an end to the case. Novell says it will appeal.

The Provo-based company believes it was left behind in the Windows 95 juggernaut by a last-minute technical change Microsoft made to protect the operating system from outside software code.

Motz ruled Novell could have worked around the problem but gave it little priority or effort and had a "mass exodus of programmers" when it was under pressure to rework its office software for the new operating system.

"If as Novell now argues, the 90-day period after the release of Windows 95 was critical to the success of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and PerfectOffice, Novell could have released those products using Microsoft's common file open dialog," said Motz, referring to another tool Microsoft let outside developers use.

Motz said the case produced no evidence that Novell ever complained to Microsoft about the problem. Novell has since asserted that Microsoft duped it into developing one WordPerfect version before pulling the plug, letting Microsoft leapfrog ahead with market share for its own products.

Novell said it was forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss.

"No reasonable jury could find on the basis of the evidence presented at trial that Microsoft's withdrawal of support for the namespace extension APIs caused Novell's failure to develop office software at the time," Motz ruled Monday. He was referring to Novell's favored Windows 95 interface that would have left WordPerfect on a main computer index.

Novell has said it believes the technical case confused jurors at trial. Novell corporate counsel Jim Lundberg told The Associated Press the company plans to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. Lundberg said Novell is disappointed in Motz's decision to throw out all of the company's antitrust and anti-competitive claims.

The case was so important to Microsoft that it put co-founder Bill Gates on the stand for two days, saying he had no idea his decision to drop a tool for outside developers would sidetrack Novelll. Gates said he made the decision to protect Windows 95 and future versions from crashing.

Gates also testified that Microsoft's Word software was superior to WordPerfect, which he called a "bulky, slow, buggy product" that did not integrate well with Windows 95. Novell failed to react quickly to changes, he said.

"We've maintained throughout this case that Novell's arguments lack merit, and we're gratified with today's ruling dismissing the last of Novell's claims and putting this matter to rest," Microsoft deputy counsel David Howard said in a statement Friday.

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