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Judge rules for Microsoft in prolonged legal fight with Utah-based Novell

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 5:43 p.m. MDT

Bill Gates arrives at court to testify in the U.S. District Court of Utah in Salt Lake City Nov. 22, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge Monday ended a prolonged, multibillion-dollar legal battle between computer giant Microsoft Corp. and one-time rival Novell Inc.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled that Novell did not produce enough evidence to show Microsoft violated antitrust laws in its development of applications for the Windows 95 operating system. The decision comes eight months after a contentious eight-week trial ended in a hung jury.

Microsoft argued throughout the trial that Novell lacked evidence to prove its case, and afterward asked the judge to throw it out based on "legal deficiencies."

"Although Novell presented evidence from which a jury could have found that Microsoft engaged in aggressive conduct, perhaps to monopolize or attempt to monopolize the applications market, it did not present evidence sufficient for a jury to find that Microsoft committed any acts that violated (antitrust laws) in maintaining its monopoly in the operating systems market," Motz wrote.

Microsoft hailed the judge's decision.

"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," David Howard, Microsoft deputy general counsel, said in a statement.

Novell Vice President Jim Lundberg said while the company is disappointed with the ruling, it still believes in the strength of its claim and intends to pursue an appeal.

Provo-based Novell filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in 2004, claiming six antitrust violations. All but one were dismissed. In the one that went to trial, Novell argued that  Microsoft deliberately put Novell's newly acquired WordPerfect word processing products at a competitive disadvantage in the mid-1990s. Novell sought at least $1.3 billion in compensation.

Novell bought WordPerfect in 1994 for $1.5 billion. It sold the Orem-based company about 18 months later for just $146 million.

"All WordPerfect wanted was to compete with Microsoft Word and Office on a reasonably level playing field," Novell attorney Jeff Johnson told jurors in closing arguments last December. "Unfortunately, as you have seen, Mr. Gates and Microsoft had other plans."

Johnson contends Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates purposefully abandoned a key piece of computer code from a beta version of Windows 95 that Novell intended as an integral part of its products for Windows.

That decision, Novell argued, impeded the development and release of its WordPerfect Office Suite for Windows 95, allowing Microsoft to gain a foothold in the home computer software market.

Microsoft contended Novell bought a dying company in WordPerfect and was slow to recognize the emergence of Windows. It argued that delays in the making of Novell's spreadsheet product slowed the release of its software for Windows 95.

Novell's cased hinged on the four tiny pieces of computer code — application programming interfaces known as name space extensions. Name space extensions contain information about how some applications may be displayed and used in Windows.

Motz ruled that "no reasonable jury could find, on the basis of the evidence presented at trial," that Microsoft’s withdrawal of support for those extensions caused Novell’s failure to develop its software within 90 days of the release of Windows 95.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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