After years of litigation, Novell’s antitrust case against Microsoft has ended in a hung jury. A single juror was left unconvinced that Microsoft leveraged its monopoly power in the desktop operating systems market back in the mid-1990s to advance its own Microsoft Office suite and crush WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. The result is that the case (which dates all the way back to the introduction of Windows 95) could find itself going to court again as Novell seeks up to $1 billion in damages.
The case had made headlines in recent weeks, as it drew Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates back to the witness stand for two days of testimony in a Utah courtroom about his company’s conduct a decade and a half ago. However, after three days, the jury was not able to reach a unanimous decision, with a single member unconvinced that Microsoft had abused its position in the industry to quash Novell’s desktop productivity application business. The jury agreed on the technical aspects of the case, but couldn’t reach a conclusion on the what Novell might have been able to accomplish if Microsoft hadn’t effectively pulled the rug out from under WordPerfect.
Novell alleges that Microsoft encouraged third-party developers like Novell to develop for its forthcoming Windows 95 operating system, only to undermine their efforts at the last minute by withdrawing key support for outside developers. The company claims Microsoft feared competition, and deliberately sabotaged Novell’s development efforts. However, in his testimony, Gates asserted he made his decisions solely on the basis of making Windows 95 as stable as possible, and had no idea the decisions would hurt Novell or other developers.
In any case, when Windows 95 launched, Microsoft’s own Office suite was the only productivity suite available for the new operating system; Novell’s sales of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro all but vanished, and the company was forced to sell the applications at a significant loss. Novell largely converted itself over to Linux development for enterprise, and the company was acquired by Attachmate statement to MarketWatch. “Clearly, this is a complicated technical case and Novell is hopeful that a re-trial will allow the opportunity to address any uncertainties some of the jurors had with this trial.”