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Novell-Microsoft WordPerfect Lawsuit Ends In Mistrial

An antitrust case rooted in the mid-1990s has floundered after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision

On by Matthew Broersma 0

A seven-year-old antitrust case brought by Novell against Microsoft has ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The trial, which began in October, ended on Friday after three days of jury deliberations. US District Judge J Frederick Motz asked Microsoft and Novell whether they would accept a non-unanimous verdict in order to prevent a mistrial, but Microsoft reportedly rejected the offer, after which Motz dismissed the jurors.

Damages

Novell sought up to $1.3bn (£830m) in damages against Microsoft for allegedly abusing its dominant market position in the mid-1990s to cripple Novell software including WordPerfect and Quattro Pro.

Novell said it would ask for a retrial.

“Novell still believes in the strength of its claim,” said Novell attorney Jim Lundberg in a statement. “Clearly, this is a complicated technical case and Novell is hopeful that a retrial will allow the opportunity to address any uncertainties some of the jurors had with this trial.”

Microsoft said it would continue to argue that Novell’s claims are unfounded.

“We are disappointed that the jury was unable to reach a verdict,” the company said in a statement. “We remain confident that Novell’s claims here do not have merit, and look forward to the next steps in the process.”

Novell has said that WordPerfect’s share of the word-processing market was nearly 50 percent in 1990 but that this dropped sharply following the introduction of Windows 95 to less than 10 percent in 1996.

WordPerfect’s market share was worth $1.2 billion (£775m) in 1994 but this had dropped to $170 million (£110m) by 1996 when the product line was sold to Corel, according to Bloomberg.

Modifications

Novell alleges that, with the introduction of Windows 95, Microsoft made modifications to Windows that prevented Novell’s software from functioning properly.

Novell also argued that Microsoft gave its own programmers access to certain system calls that allowed programs such as Word to gain a performance boost, while hiding these calls from outside companies such as Novell. In addition, Microsoft was slow to address Windows bugs that impaired the proper functioning of Novell’s software, the company’s lawyers claimed.

In November, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testified that the changes to Windows 95 were needed to make the platform stable and said that Word’s dominance was the result of hard work.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 but had been dismissed by Judge Motz before a US Court of Appeals in Virginia revived it this spring.

Novell is now a subsidiary of Attachmate.

Matthew Broersma

Author: Matthew Broersma

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Matthew Broersma
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