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Microsoft wins another round in Java battle

A federal judge sides with Microsoft in one portion of its Java license dispute with Sun Microsystems.

    A federal judge sided with Microsoft in one portion of its Java license dispute with Sun Microsystems.

    U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte late today accepted Microsoft's request for summary judgment, dismissing Sun's copyright claims.

    The decision is the second blow to Sun's case in about a month. On April 7, Whyte rejected select portions of Sun's interpretation of the license with Microsoft for its Java technology.

    But Whyte's actions are no indication of a Microsoft victory or a sign the case won't make it to trial. In February, for example, he rejected a Microsoft motion regarding the independent development of Java.

    "We're pleased that the judge decided in Microsoft's favor, even though there are so many issues outstanding," said Microsoft spokesperson Jim Cullinan. "This is one that our legal position was correct on, and we look forward to moving ahead on the other issues."

    Sun issued a statement dismissing the decision as trivial. "This ruling is consistent with the two orders issued by Judge Whyte on January 24, 2000, one of which denied Sun's motion to reinstate preliminary injunctive relief on the ground of copyright infringement, and the other of which granted Sun's motion to reinstate preliminary injunctive relief on the ground of unfair competition," the statement said.

    Today's decision does not affect the January order which reinstated the preliminary injunction against Microsoft and its licensing of Java, a programming language with Sun invented. But it does illuminate an interesting twist in the ongoing court drama.

    Whyte in November 1998 issued a preliminary injunction barring Microsoft from using Java in its products, largely basing his 31-page ruling on the argument that Microsoft violated Sun's copyright for Java. Microsoft argued it was a contractual dispute.

    But in a stunning turnaround, an appeals court later overturned the preliminary injunction, chiding Whyte for accepting Sun's copyright claim.

    When Whyte reinstated the preliminary injunction he did so using California's unfair competition law, rather than the copyright claim.

    "What he has done is not a surprise," said Rich Gray, an intellectual property attorney with Outside General Counsel Silicon Valley in Menlo Park, Calif. "Judge Whyte is doing in the summary judgment context what he already did when the court of appeals decision came down and he reconsidered and revised his injunction."

    Microsoft licensed Java from Sun in 1995 and has since built its own runtime environment, or virtual machine, for use in its Windows operating systems and its Internet Explorer Web browser. Microsoft also sells Visual J++, a Java development tool.

    Sun says not only that the Microsoft Virtual Machine is incompatible with Sun's core version of Java, but also that it causes developers to build Java programs that only operate on Microsoft's Windows, defeating Sun's "write once, run anywhere" goal and violating the letter of Sun's Java licensing agreement.

    Java, touted for its portability, lets software developers create programs that will run on virtually any operating system, such as Windows or Unix. Conformity is a big issue, Sun argues, if Java is to be ubiquitous.

    Sun sued Microsoft in October 1997, alleging the maker of Windows violated its contract with Sun for developing and deploying products using the Java programming language and also Sun's Java copyright.