Microsoft wins Bristol antitrust case

Microsoft Corp. scored a win in the Bristol Technology Inc. antitrust case, but trial watchers said it shouldn't give the company too much confidence in its other legal battles.
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

After two days of deliberation, a jury in federal court in Bridgeport, Conn., on Friday ruled that Microsoft didn't violate antitrust law when it raised the prices on its source code. Bristol had sued the company, claiming it illegally raised the price of future versions Windows NT as much as fourfold after a three-year contract between the two sides ran out.

Bristol makes a product called Wind/U, which helps programmers translate NT software to run on other operating systems like Unix. Essentially, Bristol claimed that Microsoft hooked the company on its source code in order to move into other markets, then boosted prices when it no longer needed Bristol. However, jurors didn't agree.

"We are disappointed with the jury's findings, and we still firmly believe that Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive behaviour against Bristol, and that Microsoft is attempting to monopolise additional operating system markets." Bristol Technology CEO Keith Blackwell said in a statement.

Bristol's only victory in the case came on one state charge, but it was a minor one. The jury found that Microsoft acted deceptively, but it awarded the company only $1 in damages. Bristol had asked for $263 million. "I think that speaks volumes on how the jury views any injury in this case," Microsoft spokesman Tony Pilla said.

Friday's outcome in the Bristol trial shouldn't affect the companies other antitrust cases because the Bristol case was so narrow in scope, concentrating only on a specific product in a small market.

Microsoft is in the middle of a sweeping, high-profile antitrust trial brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. A separate antitrust case brought by Caldera is set to go to trial in January. Caldera didn't have any comment on the Bristol case. Even Microsoft was reluctant to extrapolate a victory in the Bristol trial to the other cases. "The case is very different and separate from the DoJ case and any other case," Microsoft's Pilla said.

However, legal experts said the Bristol outcome may have influenced the other cases, if the jury had ruled against Microsoft. "It could've been used as evidence to suggest a pattern of anti-competitive behaviour," said Rich Gray, an attorney with California law firm Bergeson, Eliopolous, Grady & Gray LLP. "It would've been bad news for Microsoft."

The victory in the Bristol case is Microsoft's first triumph in a while. The company has stumbled on several other legal fronts in recent months.

Though the DoJ case isn't over, the company made several gaffes during its testimony, including staging demonstrations it claimed at first to be real. And the DoJ has introduced into evidence several damaging e-mails, including some from Bill Gates saying he wanted to control the Internet and cut off competition.

The company hasn't had much luck either in the Sun Microsystems Inc. Java case. A federal judge in San Jose, California, issued a preliminary injunction late last year requiring the company to stop shipping some products. Microsoft is appealing. Sun wouldn't comment on the Bristol case. And in another case brought by e-greeting company Blue Mountain Arts, a California judge ordered the company to stop shipping products that block Blue Mountain's cards and put a warning on its site.

Bristol has 30 days to appeal. The company said it was exploring all of its options.

Editorial standards