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Microsoft Founder Bill Gates to Testify in Billion-Dollar Lawsuit

Microsoft founder Bill Gates will testify as a defense witness in a mammoth, $1 billion anti-trust lawsuit.Reuters

A legal blame game between high-tech industry giants Novell Inc. and Microsoft Corp. is under way in a Salt Lake City courtroom as the companies squabble over fair business practices.

Novell sued Microsoft in 2004, claiming the Redmond, Wash., company violated U.S. antitrust laws through its arrangements with other computer makers when it launched Windows 95.

A jury heard opening statements Tuesday in U.S. District Court in a trial predicted to last eight weeks, the Deseret News reported.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is expected to testify.

"This is a case about fair play," said Jeff Johnson, attorney for The Provo, Utah-based Novell.

Johnson told jurors Microsoft used "deception" and the "classic bait and switch" when it led Novell to believe it was developing an operating system suited to WordPerfect. He contends Gates removed a key component from and delayed the release of Windows 95 to keep Novell from gaining a foothold in the emerging home computer software market.

"Microsoft severely crippled Novell's ability to produce a competitive product in a timely fashion," Johnson said.

Novell did not release its PerfectOffice suite until May 1996, too late to jump on the Windows 95 juggernaut. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office, which contained Word and Excell, took off.

"Microsoft developed in a way that was best for Microsoft. That's what it's supposed to do," the company's attorney David Tulchin said. "That's what we call competition in our country."

Microsoft had nothing to do with Novell's failure to launch, Tulchin argued.

"The blame really lies at the feet of Novell and the feet of WordPerfect Corporation," he said.

Both companies trace their roots to Utah County, Novell in Provo and WordPerfect in Orem. Novell bought WordPerfect in 1994 for $1.5 billion.

Novell is seeking $500 million to $1.2 billion in compensation.

Before now, the lawsuit has been argued in Maryland, where the federal court consolidated several other antitrust cases involving Microsoft. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz of Baltimore will preside over the trial in Utah.

Novell, which sold WordPerfect and Quattro Pro to Corel in 1996, previously reached a $536 million settlement with Microsoft on other antitrust claims involving its NetWare operating system.