Judge: Microsoft did not break copyright laws in Java case

Microsoft finally got some positive legal news this week when U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte ruled that the company did not violate any U.S. copyright laws when it designed a Windows-only version of Java, the Sun Microsystems programming language. Microsoft is being sued by Sun for breaching its Java licensing contract and violating its copyright; the copyright portion of the suit was just thrown out. Whyte ruled that the issue was purely contractual, his second ruling against Sun. The first came April 7th, when Whyte threw out portions of Sun's interpretation of its contract for Java with Microsoft.

"The language and structure of the \[Java licensing contract\] suggests that the compatibility obligations are separate covenants and not conditions of, or restrictions on, the license grants," Whyte said. Microsoft first licensed Java in late 1995, and the company released a Java programming environment, Visual J++, a year later. When it became obvious that Microsoft was creating a proprietary version of Java that was incompatible with other versions, Sun sued. Microsoft has been in court because of Java since 1998, when Judge Whyte issued a preliminary injunction preventing the software giant from distributing its "polluted" version of Java in any of its products. Despite a series of legal maneuvers, Microsoft was forced to change the version of Java in various products, such as Windows 98, Visual Studio 6, and Internet Explorer 4.

Microsoft, of course, expressed its pleasure with the ruling. "The ruling supports Microsoft's position that this is really just a contract dispute between two large and sophisticated companies and not some sort of copyright case,'' said a company spokesperson. "There are still a number of other issues yet to be resolved in this case. We look forward to moving ahead on the other issues.

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