Bristol Technology Loses Suit Against Microsoft

Last Friday, a jury of eight in the US District Court in Bridgeport Connecticut found in favor of Microsoft in the antitrust case brought by Bristol Technology against the software giant. On all points except one of Connecticut state procedural law, Microsoft was found not guilty and ordered to pay the minimum $1 fine. This verdict ends probably the weakest of the current lawsuits that Microsoft is engaged in: Other suits pending include the suit brought by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the suit brought by Caldera, a Linux software developer. Bristol Technology sought $263 million in damages. The company contended that in September 1997, Microsoft prevented Bristol Technology from gaining the required access to future versions of Windows NT source code by denying the firm a licensing contract under reasonable terms. Bristol Technology argued that the expiration of the licensing contract damaged the company's software sales. Bristol Technology wanted to continue to develop its UNIX and Windows interoperability software called Wind/U that lets NT software run on UNIX. In doing so, Bristol Technology argued that Microsoft prevented the company from competing successfully in the marketplace. Thus, Bristol Technology chose to file charges that stemmed out of a contract dispute and charge Microsoft with antitrust behavior under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. In a statement released on its Web site, Microsoft said that Bristol Technology had tried to settle a contract dispute in a court of law. As a key argument, Microsoft stated that it had offered Bristol Technology the same contract the company offered chief competitor Mainsoft. Microsoft said, "As the jury's decision indicates, the record clearly shows that Microsoft offered to license its technology to Bristol under fair and competitive terms. Indeed, Bristol's major competitor, Mainsoft Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., licensed this same technology under the same terms that Bristol rejected, and Mainsoft testified that Microsoft's terms were completely reasonable." When asked to comment about a possible appeal, Bristol Technology stated its disappointment with the jury's verdict, but did not indicate a future course of action. Bristol has 30 days to appeal the court's decision. Most analysts believe that this verdict brings this case to a close unless Bristol Technology can bring significant new information to light. Without access to NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 (Win2K) source code, Bristol Technology's chances of survival face long odds. The real issue is how this ruling plays out in the more important antitrust suit that the DOJ is waging against Microsoft regarding the incorporation of Internet Explorer (IE) into the Windows 95 OS. One of 20 attorney generals in this case, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, tried to help Bristol Technology obtain an injunction against Microsoft earlier in the case. The jury's verdict in the suit from Bristol Technology might indicate that Microsoft can engage in business practices that have an anticompetitive effect, without actually violating antitrust statues. Undoubtedly, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who is presiding over the DOJ case, will look at the ruling against Bristol Technology very closely. The DOJ case goes to closing arguments on September 21 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, with a judgment expected several months later. The Caldera software case goes to trial in US District Court in Salt Lake City on January 17, 2000. Microsoft corporate spokesman Jim Cullinan was quoted as saying, "We believe the verdict represents an important victory for the entire industry, not only Microsoft, by upholding the rights of companies to license their technology in a fair and equitable manner. While the verdict is positive in this case, it will also have a positive impact on the other cases."

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