Microsoft appeal in WordPerfect process fails in US Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court, has refused to rule on Microsoft’s appeal against an antitrust case brought by Novell for alleged anti-competitive practices in the office software field. This means that the case can now be taken forward. Microsoft had turned to the Supreme Court to try to overturn a decision by the Court of Appeal in Richmond, Virginia and have the case reheard. The Court of Appeal last year confirmed a ruling from 2005 that the case should go forward. This means that Novell’s suit is now officially admissible.
Microsoft justified its appeal to the Supreme Court by claiming that Novell was neither a direct competitor in the operating system field or a Microsoft customer in the mid 90s and referred to rulings that only such organisations could launch actions of this kind. Novell claimed, however, that it had offered software capable of running on various platforms in order to try to get around the Windows monopoly. According to a report from the Bloomberg financial news agency, Microsoft fears that the Supreme Court decision will widen the range of potential plaintiffs able to sue under antitrust laws.
Novell has accused Microsoft of unfair competitive practices in the office software field. Shortly after Novell acquired WordPerfect for 51 million dollars in June 1994, the company started to integrate the product into its own suite for Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 95. Novell states that, following advice given by Microsoft, it undertook considerable work in integrating Browsing Extensions into its software. When the public beta of Windows 95 was released, however, the programming interfaces and documentation for these extensions were not made available. Novell therefore had to delay the release of WordPerfect for Windows 95, resulting in Windows 95 users being unable to open their existing WordPerfect documents. Microsoft, by contrast, claims that the drop in WordPerfect market share from around 50 percent in 1990 to less than 10 percent in 1996 was due to mismanagement by Novell.
In a previous suit concerning Novell’s Netware network operating system, the company agreed a half billion dollar settlement with Microsoft in late 2004, in return for which Novell agreed not to pursue a suit regarding Netware and withdrew from the EU antitrust process against Microsoft. Whether Microsoft and Novell will once again come to an agreement remains to be seen.