Novell, Microsoft Antitrust Suit Heading to Jury

Microsoft and Novell are reaching the endgame of a long-running court case, in which Novell accuses Microsoft of conspiring to crush WordPerfect.

Microsoft and Novell have finished the closing-argument stage of their long-running court battle, one that saw Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates called to the stand in November. The case (Novell Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 04-01045, U.S. District Court, District of Utah (Salt Lake City)), is now in the hands of the jury.

Novell claims that Microsoft relied on illegal practices to crush WordPerfect, a rival to Microsoft Word. It filed its long-running suit in November 2004, claiming that Microsoft withheld critical Windows 95 technical information, in turn making it difficult to deliver a version of WordPerfect compatible with the operating system.

In turn, Microsoft has argued that WordPerfect's market share collapse was due solely to Novell's mismanagement. Novell eventually sold its 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.

Even as the two companies battled it out in court, the two collaborated in other areas. 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. At the time, Katherine Egbert of research firm Jefferies & Co. postulated that the assets could relate somehow to WordPerfect.

That deal ran into a sizable roadblock, however, in the form of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which picked over the associated patents. That interfered Attachmate's attempt to acquire Novell for $2.2 billion, although federal regulators eventually allowed the deal to go through.

Gates testified in the Novell-Microsoft suit Nov. 21. Unsurprisingly, he denied that Microsoft had deliberately tried to undermine WordPerfect's compatibility with Windows. According to Bloomberg, Novell's counsel used closing arguments to describe Microsoft's behavior at the time as a "purely predatory action."

Gates has testified in Microsoft's defense before, most notably during the company's 1998 antitrust investigation by the federal government.

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