Novell's case against Microsoft goes to jury

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A jury began deliberations Wednesday in a Utah company's $1 billion federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp.

Novell Inc. sued Microsoft in 2004, claiming the Redmond, Wash., company violated U.S. antitrust laws through its arrangements with other software makers when it launched Windows 95. Novell said it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss.

The company claims Microsoft duped it into developing the once-popular WordPerfect writing program for Windows 95 only to pull the plug so Microsoft could gain market share with its own product.

"It was purely a predatory action," Novell Inc. attorney Jeff Johnson told jurors a day earlier.

Microsoft lawyers have argued that Novell's loss of market share was its own doing because the company didn't develop a compatible WordPerfect program until long after the rollout of Windows 95. WordPerfect once had nearly 50 percent of the market for word processing, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Microsoft's own Office programs took hold.

"Novell was late. It was always behind. It was playing catch-up," Microsoft attorney David Tulchin said during closing arguments.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates testified last month that he had no idea his decision to drop a tool for outside developers would sidetrack Novell. Gates said he was acting to protect Windows 95 and future versions from crashing.

Novell could have worked around the problem but failed to react quickly, he said.

Gates also said Novell couldn't deliver a compatible WordPerfect program in time for the rollout, and that Microsoft's own Word program was actually better. He said that by 1994, the Word writing program was ranked No. 1 in the market, above WordPerfect.

Novell has argued that Gates ordered Microsoft engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 word processing application because he feared it was too good.

Novell's lawsuit is the last major private antitrust case to follow the settlement of a federal antitrust enforcement action against Microsoft more than eight years ago. The trial began in October in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Novell is now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Attachmate Group, the result of a merger that was completed earlier this year.