Here we go again: Novell's antitrust suit against Microsoft isn't dead yet

A federal appeals court this week agreed to hear Novell's appeal of a longstanding antitrust case involving Microsoft and WordPerfect.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

In March 2010, the U.S. District Court in Maryland dismissed the last two outstanding antitrust claims Novell filed against Microsoft in 2004 involving WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, two software products Novell owned between 1994 and 1996. At that time, Novell officials said they planned to appeal.

On May 3, a U.S. court in Richmond, Virg., said Novell's appeal will be considered. As Bloomberg reported:

“'Although the underlying lawsuit involves complex issues of antitrust law, the primary question before us is one of contract interpretation: whether a 1996 contract between Novell and a third company divested Novell of its right to bring the present claim,' Judge Allyson Duncan wrote in the 2-1 decision."

(The third company in this case is Caldera.)

Back in 2004, Novell settled one potential antitrust suit with Microsoft involving NetWare for $536 million. But Novell refused to settle with Microsoft over antitrust claims around its WordPerfect and Quattro Pro products at that time.

Novell claimed Microsoft withheld interoperability information it needed to enable those products to run well on Windows. Microsoft tried to get Novell’s complaint dismissed, claiming that it was Novell’s “own mismanagement and poor business decisions” that tanked WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. Plus, Microsoft argued, since Novell sold WordPerfect to Corel now 12 years ago, their claims should be barred under the Statute of Limitations. Four of Novell’s claims in this matter had previously been dismissed. But two were allowed to go forward.

Microsoft is downplaying Novell's planned appeal. Kevin Kutz, a spokesperson for the company, told Bloomberg, "“We are disappointed with the Fourth’s Circuit’s decision to reverse in part the district court’s summary judgment ruling which dismissed these very old claims, although we are pleased that at this point only one part of one of Novell’s claims remains."

Attachmate reportedly has had Novell lay off "hundreds" of employees earlier this week, and is moving Novell corporate headquarters back from Waltham, Mass., to Provo, Utah. There have been reports that a number of individuals working on the Mono project were cut from the payroll, but so far, Miguel de Icaza and his Mono cohorts aren't confirming publicly that they -- or the Mono products -- have been affected.

Novell's sale to Attachmate -- and the subsequent sale of 800-plus of its patents to a group of tech vendors that include Microsoft -- went through at the end of April, 2011.

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