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Microsoft loses round to card firm

A California judge orders Microsoft to stop interfering with the delivery of electronic greetings cards sent by Blue Mountain Arts, both companies say.

A California judge ordered Microsoft to stop interfering with the delivery of electronic greetings cards sent by Blue Mountain Arts, both companies said today.

At a hearing today in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Judge Robert Baines issued a preliminary injunction requiring Microsoft to stop its Outlook Express email program from placing Blue Mountain electronic greeting cards in a "junk mail" folder, the companies said.

Blue Mountain sued Microsoft in December, alleging that an antispam feature in a beta version of Outlook Express 5.0 was hurting Blue Mountain's fledgling online greeting card business. Blue Mountain contended that Microsoft added the feature in an attempt to "block or break competitors" shortly after it developed its own greeting card service on its MSN portal.

For its part, Microsoft says Outlook Express ships with the antispam feature in the "off" position and is activated only if a user turns it on. The feature, designed to filter out unsolicited email, can be fooled into thinking that messages from Blue Mountain are spam, a glitch that happens to other electronic greetings, including those originating from MSN, Microsoft argues. The feature does not delete filtered mail but rather places it in a separate folder.

Today's injunction extends a temporary restraining order issued in December for the remainder of the case. It also goes farther than the previous ruling, which merely ordered Microsoft to help Blue Mountain revise its greetings so they would not be filtered by Outlook Express. Blue Mountain had complained that despite its efforts with Microsoft to fix the problem, some of its greetings still were being filtered.

Today's preliminary injunction, by contrast, puts the burden on Microsoft to alter its filter so that Blue Mountain cards are not placed in a separate folder, said Jared Schutz, vice president of business development at Blue Mountain. "This should come as a relief to the tens of millions of people that we serve with our free service," he added.

Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla said the company was disappointed with the ruling, which gives the company 30 days to comply.

"It in effect unnecessarily punishes all Internet users who at their own choosing can benefit from the innovative technology in helping them manage the sea of information online," Pilla said. "Instead, the decision provides unwarranted treatment to one company."

Pilla said Microsoft attorneys were reviewing the decision and didn't yet know if they would appeal.