Jury Deadlocks in Novell Antitrust Suit Against Microsoft

If you thought there was nothing stranger than Microsoft being the subject of an antitrust lawsuit for actions it allegedly took against a product that is no longer owned by the company that's suing, then hold on to your seat. Because it just got stranger: A federal jury has deadlocked, effectively ending the case. But the company suing Microsoft says it's going to try again. And that means a whole new trial.

"We hoped to get a verdict," Microsoft attorney Jim Jardine said. "But we are confident. This jury was a very diligent jury, and there are other steps that we can do to move forward."

"Although it is technically complicated, we are hoping that in a retrial we can convince a jury that Novell's claims are valid," Novell attorney Jim Lundberg added.

As a refresher, Microsoft crushed WordPerfect back in the early 1990s, taking control of the PC word processing market with its Word application, part of a broader suite of Office solutions. WordPerfect was owned by Novell from 1994 to 1996, during which time that application's share of the word processing market fell from 50 percent to less than 10 percent. But as I've noted elsewhere, this was because WordPerfect executed the wrong strategy by backing OS/2 in order to harm Microsoft and its chances with Windows. And when Windows did take off in the marketplace, WordPerfect was sunk, a victim of its owners' hubris. It never caught up again.

Novell lost big on WordPerfect, too: After paying a then-stunning $850 million for the product in 1994, it sold it all to Corel for just $180 million less than two years later. Novell wasn't exactly on the top of its game during this period, obviously, and spent much of the 1990s madly trying to emulate Microsoft's successes in operating systems and productivity software. It failed at both.

Of course, this is all ancient history. But in 2004, well after Microsoft's US antitrust trial wound down, Novell decided to sue Microsoft for antitrust violations ... for the actions it undertook in the early 1990s, and even though Novell had sold off WordPerfect some 8 years previous. That case went to trial just two months ago in federal court in Utah, and it even featured an appearance by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who testified that his company simply made the better product.

Novell, which is now itself owned by Attachmate, is seeking $1.3 billion in damages.

Last week, the case went to the jury. But after deliberating all week, the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. So they appeared before US District Judge J. Frederick Motz on Saturday to announce the deadlock. He dismissed them, and the case, since federal trial rules require a unanimous verdict.

According to reports, some jurors were actually in tears. Apparently, the vote was 11-to-1 in favor of Novell, though five of the jurors have since said they would have awarded Novell no damages at all. 

Novell says it will "probably" seek a retrial.
TAGS: Windows 8
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