Microsoft Facing New Legal Challenges

Microsoft will head to court soon, but not for the federal antitrust case that's awaiting a decision from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The company is facing other legal challenges--from Sun Microsystems and what's left of Be (which once made a rival OS). And a US district court might combine a slew of antitrust lawsuits into one class-action suit.

The first case involves a Sun request for federal court injunctions against Microsoft that would require Microsoft to bundle Sun's Java technology with Windows. A federal judge has set a December 3 hearing date to determine whether to force Microsoft to include Java with Windows, although Microsoft must respond to Sun's complaint by October 4. Sun is also charging that Microsoft engaged in antitrust violations by harming the Java platform, forcing other companies to distribute products that were incompatible with Java, and creating an incompatible Java version. Of course, Microsoft says that Sun's claims are spurious. "We feel that our activities have always been in the best interests of consumers and that Sun, instead of competing in the marketplace, is relying on litigation," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

In the Be case, the remainder of the company (a lawyer and one company representative--Palm bought most of Be's assets last year), has sued Microsoft as a result of the software giant's antitrust conviction and seeks damages for Microsoft's predatory behavior. To expedite litigation, the discovery phase of Be's case could be combined with Sun's case, although Be says it wants the case tried in California.

And in early October, a federal court in Baltimore, Maryland, will determine whether to combine more than 100 antitrust suits against Microsoft into one class-action suit. Judge Frederick Motz of the US District Court for the District of Maryland has set an October 1 deadline for class-action certification. In addition, the judge has set an October 24 hearing date to determine whether Microsoft will be bound by the findings already issued in the company's federal antitrust case.

These court cases prove that Microsoft's antitrust problems won't end with Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling. But if the past is any indication, we can expect the company to emerge relatively unscathed. As time marches on, whatever damages Microsoft might have caused in the past seem more and more remote, thanks largely to the fast-moving nature of the PC industry.

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