Novell-Microsoft trial at critical juncture
Courts • Lawyers for the software giant will press for dismissal of antitrust case.
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Novell rested its case Thursday in a trial in which it claims Microsoft Corp. caused it to lose about $1 billion in value after Novell's ill-fated purchase of WordPerfect and other software applications in the mid-'90s.

At the projected halfway point of the seven-week trial, Utah-based Novell has tried to convince a federal court jury to award it tens of millions of dollars in damages because of Microsoft's alleged anti-competitive actions.

But in an unusual move, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has set aside at least five hours Friday during which lawyers for Microsoft will argue that Novell has not met the requirements of established law to go forward with the trial.

Motz, a Baltimore judge who is hearing the case in Salt Lake City, could side with Microsoft and put an end to the proceedings. If he allows the jury to continue to hear the case, Microsoft is set to begin presenting its side on Monday.

That would set the stage for much-anticipated testimony by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, although the exact day he would appear is not clear.

An email Gates wrote in October 1994, 11 months before the launch of Windows 95, is at the heart of Novell's case. In it, Gates, who was CEO at the time, decided to not include several software code features in Windows 95, the highly successful personal computer operating system released in August 1995.

Novell had purchased WordPerfect and other software programs in 1994 in order to compete head-to-head with Microsoft. It claims Gates' decision to withdraw the previously promoted features of Windows 95 was meant to try to give Microsoft time to develop its own programs such as Word and the spreadsheet Excel and, ultimately, to help it maintain its monopoly in computer operating systems.

Novell claims Gates' decision caused Novell to delay bringing out a version of WordPerfect and other programs for Windows 95, which caused WordPerfect to lose its dominance in word-processing software.

Microsoft is trying to prove to the jury that Novell could have come out earlier with a Windows 95 version and that the delays were caused by poor decisions made by WordPerfect and Novell.

Novell's financial expert, Frederick Warren-Boulton, a Washington, D.C., economist, told the jury this week his analysis showed Gates' decision caused Novell damages of $976 million to $1.3 billion.

Warren-Boulton testified he favored the lower figure as his best calculation of the financial harm Novell suffered, but in cross-examination, Microsoft attorney Jim Jardine tried to chip away at the premises on which Warren-Boulton built his valuation of the damages to Novell.

Microsoft's financial expert is scheduled to testify in the second half of the trial and will have a quite different result, he said.

"He thinks the damages are zero [using] the same approach," Jardine said.

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