A federal appeals court gave both parties partial victory Thursday in the antitrust case Sun Microsystems Inc. filed against Microsoft Corp.
Microsoft won in that the court struck down Suns request that Microsoft be forced to ship Java in every copy of Windows it sells. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., vacated a lower court ruling in favor of Sun and remanded that portion back to the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. However, the appellate court ruled in favor of Sun on its copyright claim, and enforced an injunction stating that Microsoft must not distribute any Java other than software licensed to Microsoft as of a 2001 settlement between the companies.
“Because the district court was unable to find immediate irreparable harm and because it entered a preliminary injunction that does not aid or protect the courts ability to enter final relief on Suns PC-operating-systems monopolization claim, we vacate the mandatory preliminary injunction,” the court wrote in its ruling.
“With respect to the preliminary injunction prohibiting Microsoft from distributing products that infringe Suns copyright interest, however, we conclude that the district court did not err in construing the scope of the license granted by Sun to Microsoft, nor did it abuse its discretion in entering the injunction,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm that preliminary injunction.”
“We are extremely pleased with the Appellate Courts ruling today affirming the copyright infringement injunction,” said Lee Patch, vice president of legal affairs at Sun, in a statement. “This decision confirms that Microsoft violated our prior settlement agreement, and that it did so in a way that continued to fragment the Java platform on PCs. While we are disappointed with the delay that results from the Courts determination to vacate and remand the Must Carry preliminary injunction, the Court accepted the District Courts determination that Microsoft engaged in anticompetitive acts. We look forward to a speedy trial and our opportunity to more fully address these and significant additional violations when we present our complete antitrust case against Microsoft.”
Also in a statement, Rich Green, vice president of developer platforms at Sun said: “This is an important victory for the Java community—it helps to ensure that only current, compatible Java technology will be distributed on PCs. In the years since it was introduced, Java technology has come to play a unique and vital role in computing. Java technology presents a remarkable opportunity for software developers on desktops, on devices and in server rooms—it has literally transformed the World Wide Web, running on everything, from smart cards to huge servers in complex data centers, and drawing them all together.”
Jim Desler, a spokesman for Microsoft said of the courts opinion: “We are pleased with todays Court ruling. This is another step in a long legal process and we consider it to be a positive step. We are also pleased that todays ruling appears to affirm Judge [Cathleen Kolar-]Kotellys conclusions on this issue.”
Desler added that Microsoft “will abide by the Courts ruling on copyright and have already stopped distributing the Microsoft JVM through internet download. This is part of a broader process of phasing out the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine as contemplated in the companies 2001 settlement agreement. Microsoft has demonstrated repeatedly this past year its commitment to move beyond our conflicts, to work collaboratively with the rest of the industry and to focus on the future.”
During a preliminary injunction hearing on the issue in Richmond in April, the court seemed less than sympathetic to Suns cause. Microsoft and Sun argued before a three-judge panel consisting of H. Emory Widener, Jr., Paul Niemeyer, and Roger Gregory.
Judge Paul Niemeyer, who wrote Thursdays opinion, took control early in the hearing in which Microsoft sought to appeal a federal District Court ruling that it must ship Java with every copy of Windows the software giant sells. Niemeyer challenged Suns lead attorney, Lloyd “Rusty” Day, almost immediately when he stood to argue for Suns right to the “must-carry” Java provision, noting that that the remedy Sun is seeking is not suited to the claim it made in the courts.
Niemeyer said Sun laid its claim of existing harm by Microsoft on the issue of Microsofts illegal maintenance of its monopoly position in the PC operating system market, yet the preliminary injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz addresses potential harm Sun would face from Microsoft in the middleware market, an “emerging” market where Suns Java competes with Microsofts .Net platform.
“If your concern is about the PC operating system market and your client is not in that market, why do you care?” Niemeyer asked Day after setting the tone with two initial questions about Suns claims.
Microsofts attorney, David Tulchin, argued that a preliminary injunction such as the one Sun is seeking is unprecedented as a remedy before a case has been tried. “Never before has a preliminary injunction been used in an antitrust case to alter dramatically the status quo in a market, and here to benefit the dominant form in that market.” Tulchin noted that Sun holds more than 90 percent of the server operating system market and is a leader in the platform market for cell phones, PDAs and other devices, with its Micro Java implementation.
Thursdays ruling may mean less in the overall scheme as Sun has recently proven that it can ensure broad deployment of Java on its own. At its JavaOne conference in San Francisco earlier this month, Sun announced deals with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp. whereby both major PC suppliers will ship the latest version of the Java runtime on all new computers they sell. In the courts, Microsoft argued that Sun should have done this in the first place.