Appeals court overturns Sun injunction in Microsoft antitrust case

Friday, June 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. took another step away from its legal problems when a federal appeals court refused to make the computer giant include a rival's software on its Windows operating system.

The unanimous decision Thursday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a blow to the distribution of Sun Microsystem's Java, the technology designed to let programmers write software to run on all types of computers regardless of the operating system or Web browser.

The appeals court upheld another order barring Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., from distributing its own version of Java. Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said the company has already started phasing out distribution of its version of the technology.

Sun's case is one of four private antitrust lawsuits brought after a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and 18 states that Microsoft acted as an illegal monopoly based on its dominance in desktop operating systems.

It is also one of the highest-profile antitrust cases remaining against Microsoft. Last month, Microsoft and AOL Time Warner settled AOL's January 2002 lawsuit that contended Microsoft relied on illegal, anticompetitive tactics to make its Internet Explorer the dominant Web browser, displacing AOL's Netscape. In that settlement, Microsoft agreed to pay AOL Time Warner $750 million.

Sun, based in Santa Clara, Calif., had argued that Microsoft gained an unfair advantage by shipping Windows _ used on more than 90 percent of the world's personal computers _ with an outdated version of Java that is inconsistent for its users.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore accepted Sun's argument that waiting until the antitrust case is resolved could permanently kill Java. So he ordered Microsoft to include the latest version of Java in the Windows XP operating system.

The appeals court struck down the order, saying Sun failed to demonstrate the ``immediate irreparable harm'' to the company.

But the court upheld Motz's order ``prohibiting Microsoft from distributing products that infringe Sun's copyright interests,'' including Microsoft's own version of Java.

The ruling ``is a huge win for Microsoft,'' industry analyst Michael Gartenberg said.

``It validates the notion that they do not have to use their operating system as a springboard platform for other companies' initiatives like Java,'' said Gartenberg, research director for New York-based Jupiter Research.

But the court also gave Microsoft ``a bit of a rebuke that if you are going to include Java it has to be what Sun defines as Java, not what Microsoft defines as Java,'' Gartenberg said. ``You can't co-opt someone else's work.''

Lee Patch, vice president for legal affairs for Sun Microsystems, said the ruling affirming the copyright infringement injunction ``confirms that Microsoft violated our prior settlement agreement, and that it did so in a way that continued to fragment the Java platform on PCs.''

Desler said Microsoft was pleased with the ruling, which he called ``another step in a long legal process.''