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Verdict Close in $1 Billion Lawsuit Against Microsoft

Bill Gates Leaves Court Utah 2011.jpg

Nov. 21, 2011: Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates leaves the Frank E. Moss federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Gates testified in a $1 billion antitrust lawsuit brought by Novell Inc.AP Photo/Jim Urquhart

Jurors have resumed deliberations in a Utah company's $1 billion federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. and say they're close to a verdict.

Novell Inc. sued in 2004, claiming Microsoft duped it into developing a version of its WordPerfect writing program for Windows 95 only to pull the plug so Microsoft could gain market share with its own Word program.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates testified last month that Novell just couldn't deliver a compatible WordPerfect program in time for the rollout, and that Microsoft's own Word program was actually better.

Jurors said late Thursday they were making progress deciding whether Novell was entitled to damages. On Friday morning, they said they were close to finishing deliberations.

Tensions were high among lawyers waiting for what could be an enormous verdict. Novell is seeking up to $1.3 billion from Microsoft.

If the jury rules against Novell, its attorneys will have little to show for a decade of effort.

Throughout the trial, Novell lawyers argued that because its office products worked on multiple operating systems, Microsoft's snub of WordPerfect for Windows 95 was an illegal effort to maintain its monopoly.

Microsoft countered that it had valid business reasons to deny WordPerfect a set of software tools that threatened to crash new Windows technology. They say Novell could have worked around the problem but moved too slow.

Microsoft says Novell's ensuing loss of market share was its own doing because the company didn't develop a compatible WordPerfect program until long after the Windows 95 rollout. WordPerfect once had nearly 50 percent of the market for word processing, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Microsoft's own Office programs took hold.

"Novell was late. It was always behind. It was playing catch-up," Microsoft attorney David Tulchin said during closing arguments Tuesday.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates testified last month that he had no idea his decision to drop a tool for outside developers would sidetrack Novell. He denied Novell's claim that Microsoft intentionally deceived the company.

Gates also said Novell just couldn't deliver a compatible WordPerfect program in time for the rollout, and that Microsoft's own Word program was actually better. He said that by 1994, the Word writing program was ranked No. 1 in the market, above WordPerfect.

Novell argued that Gates ordered Microsoft engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 application because he feared it was too good.

Novell's lawsuit is the last major private antitrust case to follow the settlement of a federal antitrust enforcement action against Microsoft more than eight years ago. The trial began in October in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Novell is now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Attachmate Group, the result of a merger that was completed earlier this year.