Federal judge slaps down Microsoft with $1 million in damages

Calling the software giant "wanton, reckless and deceptive," a federal judge has ordered Microsoft to pay Bristol Technology $1 million in damages for violating Connecticut's fair business laws. U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall found that Microsoft deliberately used deceptive business practices against the smaller company, and that these actions came from the highest levels of the company in a bid to maintain Microsoft's market power. Judge Hall also said that Microsoft executives testified untruthfully, and pointed to an email message from Bill Gates that proves that Gates understood the ill affects that the company's business practices would have on Bristol, even as he approved those practices. Connecticut-based Bristol writes software that helps convert Windows applications to UNIX, and the company says its legal battle with Microsoft prevented it from launching an IPO.

Bristol took Microsoft to court in late 1998, even as the software giant's antitrust trial was heating up. But in July 1999, Bristol was defeated at the hands of a federal jury in Connecticut, which awarded the company $1 (yes, one dollar), an apparent slap in the face. Microsoft, of course, applauded the ruling, though Bristol ended up suing for damages. And this week, Bristol's tenacity paid off to the tune of $1 million. This time around, things went quite differently: In the first trial, jurors found Bristol to be "greedy" and underhanded in their attempts to blackball Microsoft in the press in the days leading up to the trial. But Judge Hall says that Microsoft acted in a "classic bait and switch" tactic by informing customers and developers such as Bristol that it would continue to supply the latest Windows technologies to them so that they could port them to UNIX. Instead, Microsoft withheld the necessary Windows licenses from Bristol when they were needed, preventing the company from continuing its work. The judge says that Microsoft did this to "undermine the competitive threat of UNIX" in a manner similar to the way it acted against Netscape when that company was perceived as a threat. Microsoft told the court that it had actually offered a new licensing agreement to Bristol, but the judge found that to be untrue.

Microsoft, of course, says that it will appeal the ruling, and the mood in Redmond was decidedly less jubilant than it was last July, when the company declared that it had achieved "a total victory" against Bristol. The company also denied any similarities with its antitrust case, currently on hold with the U.S. Supreme Court

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