Microsoft, Novell Case's Hung Jury Means Continuing Legal Action

Novell's antitrust case against Microsoft has resulted in a hung jury, all but guaranteeing that the long-running battle will continue at least into the near future.

Novell's antitrust suit against Microsoft hit something of a brick wall Dec. 16, with a deadlocked jury and the possibility of still more action in the long-running case.

Novell claims that Microsoft relied on illegal practices to crush WordPerfect, a rival to Microsoft Word-specifically, by withholding critical Windows 95 technical information, which in turn made it difficult to deliver a version of WordPerfect compatible with the operating system. The case has dragged on since November 2004.

"We are hoping that in retrial, although it is technically complicated, that we can convince a jury that Novell's claims are valid," Jim Lundberg, an attorney for Novell, told Bloomberg Dec. 17.

According to Bloomberg, the jury voted 11-1 against Microsoft. "We gave it our best shot," the jury foreman told the Associated Press.

For its part, Microsoft has argued that WordPerfect's market-share collapse was due solely to Novell's mismanagement. Novell eventually sold the word-processing franchise to Corel in 1996, for a fraction of the price it paid to acquire the property in 1994. However, it retained the rights to some of the underlying technology, which it baked into products such as the GroupWise messaging and collaboration platform.

The trial was especially notable for an appearance by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who testified Nov. 21. Unsurprisingly, he denied that Microsoft had deliberately tried to undermine WordPerfect's compatibility with Windows.

However ironically, Microsoft and Novell have collaborated in other areas, even as their respective counsels battled out the antitrust matter in court. In late 2010, Novell announced it would sell some of its intellectual property assets to CPTN Holdings, a consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft. The actual intellectual property in question was unspecified, although the consortium was willing to pay some $450 million for it. At the time, Katherine Egbert of research firm Jefferies & Co. postulated that the assets were somehow related to WordPerfect.

The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in to examine the deal, interfering Attachmate's attempt to acquire Novell for $2.2 billion, although federal regulators eventually allowed the deal to go through.

At this point, Microsoft will almost certainly file a motion to dismiss Novell's claims, even as the latter attempts to win a new trial. In other words, this case isn't over yet.

Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter