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Bristol files suit vs. Microsoft

The development tool maker files a lawsuit claiming Microsoft violated federal antitrust laws by stifling competition in the marketplace.

    A development tool maker today slapped Microsoft with a lawsuit claiming the software giant violated federal antitrust laws by stifling competition in the marketplace.

    Bristol Technology, a maker of cross-platform development tools, is seeking relief in unspecified damages from Microsoft's anticompetitive behavior, under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Bristol is also seeking injunctive relief from Microsoft that would require the Redmond, Washington-based company to provide Bristol with source code for future versions of Windows operating systems, including Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and NT 5.0, the company said.

    The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, alleges that Microsoft injured Bristol and the rest of the software industry through predatory manipulation of the access to Windows programming interfaces, according to a statement from the company. That information is the source of Microsoft's monopoly power, says the statement.

    The complaint accuses Microsoft of allegedly entangling Bristol in a "charade to stifle competition" from other operating systems--Unix, Compaq's Open VMS, and IBM's OS/390.

    Bristol maintained that, after being approached by the Redmond, Washington-based company, it helped Microsoft develop Windows programming interfaces- the underlying technology for the screens that viewers use to navigate Windows NT--dating back to 1991, the early days of development of Windows NT.

    Microsoft is now seeking to end access to this technology, to cut off Bristol's access to current and future Windows source code, and is offering only a license that Microsoft knows is oppressive, unworkable, and unreasonable, Bristol said.

    Bristol alleged that this was an effort to force it and other software developers, including Sybase, to use only Windows operating systems instead of developing software to run on multiple software systems.

    "The complaint appears to be completely without merit," Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said. "Bristol is seeking to elevate a routine business negotiation over source code license into a federal lawsuit."

    Cullinan said his company and Bristol were negotiating a new license--as late as last night--when Bristol broke off negotiations and filed the lawsuit without Microsoft's knowledge. The license terms extended to Bristol have been favorably received by other companies, he added.

    But Bristol said the lawsuit was a last resort.

    "Bristol is very disappointed that it was necessary to sue to obtain what Microsoft has said all along it would provide us," Keith Blackwell, chairman and president of Bristol, said in a statement. "It is daunting for a company of Bristol's size to take on a company as large as Microsoft in court. This dispute should have been worked out by good-faith negotiations."

    Today's suit is just the latest battle in an ongoing legal war Microsoft is fighting with federal and state trustbusters as well as other software companies.

    In the government's ongoing case against Microsoft negotiations continue over the procedures for allowing public access to the depositions should an appellate court stay be denied, a Microsoft spokesman said. Judge Jackson would have to approve any agreed-upon protocol that emerges. The trial is slated to start September 8, but the parties involved reportedly are exploring the possibility of a delay of up to two weeks.

    Last week, the software giant asked the federal appellate court to stay a lower court decision allowing the public and news organizations to be present when government attorneys depose Microsoft executives.