Tech smackdowns: 9 court confrontations that mattered (pictures)
U.S. v. Microsoft
As jurors deliberate in Apple v. Samsung, we've put together this look back at some the biggest, most influential court battles in technology.
The trial that dwarfs all other tech litigation was of course United States v. Microsoft.
In 1998, U.S. regulators (and those from 20 states) accused the software maker of using its Windows monopoly to unfairly compete in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Both sides fought hard. The battle lasted several years, and involved a massive PR campaign between Microsoft and its critics. Microsoft took out full-page ads in The New York Times that tried to convince President Bill Clinton the case wasn't in the public's interest. Initially, the court wanted Microsoft split in two, but that ruling was overturned. In 2001, the software giant settled with the Justice Department.
The above photos are from a video of Bill Gates testifying during his deposition in August 1998. He was said to have verbally sparred over the definitions of such words as "compete" and "we."
Photo by: Wikipedia
Oracle tangles with feds over PeopleSoft acquisition
PeopleSoft, the maker of customer-relationship and business-financial software, got some help from the U.S. government as it tried fending off a hostile takeover bid from Oracle, the major power in enterprise software.
In 2004, the feds filed suit and claimed Oracle would kill competition and violate antitrust laws by acquiring PeopleSoft. A federal judge found that U.S. officials had failed to prove their case.
In December 2004, Oracle announced that it had agreed to pay $10 billion for PeopleSoft. In the aftermath, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison (pictured above in Washington D.C., with a friend) may have wanted PeopleSoft, but he wasn't soft on its people. He laid off more than half of the company's 11,000 employees a month after taking control.
Photo by: Daniel Terdiman/CNET
Oracle, Google quarrel over Java
Oracle filed suit in 2010 against Google claiming that the technology involved in the Android operating system violated some of its patents and copyrights. Early on, the experts predicted Google would pay through the nose in damages. That didn't happen.
Sure, the jury decided in May that Google had infringed the Java patents, but they couldn't decide whether it was fair use or not. Some on the jurors said Oracle never really came close to winning.
Photo by: CNET
Breaking up the Bells
The litigation that resulted in the breaking up of what was then commonly referred to as Ma Bell, was U.S. v. AT&T.
In 1974, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against the old American Telephone & Telegraph company and accused it of using its monopoly powers to thwart competition. In 1984, the parties settled and the mammoth conglomerate was split into seven Bell telecommunication companies and became a much smaller AT&T.
Extra credit: Can you name the judge who oversaw the settlement? It was Judge Harold Greene who died in 2000.
Photo by: CNET
They don't call it Tivo-ing for nothing
What would this list be without a few patent cases that dragged on forever. In 2004, TiVo sued Dish and EchoStar (when they were still one company), for infringing on the company's DVR technology.
Tivo initially won the case and then the courts agreed to reconsider it. Numerous other extensions meant that the dispute lasted five years before Dish and EchoStar agreed last year to cough up $500 million to settle the case.
Why, oh why, didn't we go to law school?
Photo by: TiVo
The fight over 'Buy it Now'
In another marathon case, Virginia-based MercExchange warred with auction giant eBay for seven years.
In 2001, MercExchange alleged that eBay's "Buy It Now" feature, which allows users to purchase items without going through the bidding process -- infringed on three of its patents.
The parties settled in 2008 when eBay agreed to purchase the patents in question.
Photo by: eBay
File sharing's Joan of Arc
Jammie Thomas-Rasset (pictured) is the Minnesota woman who in 2007 was found liable for downloading 24 unauthorized song files. She eventually ended up owing the top four record labels $1.5 million in damages. Those damage awards keep getting reduced by judges and the case keeps winding through the courts.
This copyright case is by no means big in terms of dollar value but among the many Web users who pirate music and movies via torrent sites or cyberlockers, Thomas became a popular symbol of defiance against big entertainment companies.
Where's the case now? You guessed it, still in the courts.
Photo by: Jammie Thomas-Rasset
Remember RIM's NTP scare
Critics are quick to say how much patent disputes harm society and consumers. But the dispute between NTP and Research In Motion threatened national security, or at least that's what the Defense Department claimed.
In 2000, patent holding company NTP accused RIM of violating its wireless e-mail patents. RIM argued the technology was in the public domain before NTP's patents were registered. The jury found in favor of NTP.
In 2005, the court threatened to hit RIM with an injunction that would have forced it to stop using the e-mail technology and leave BlackBerry users in the cold. Remember, this was a time when someone still cared about RIM phones.
The Defense Department told the court that so many of its employees relied on RIM, that the phone was crucial for national defense. The two sides saved the Pentagon when RIM agreed to pay $612 million to settle.
Photo by: Josh Miller/CNET
SCO v. Novell
This clash started when SCO, otherwise known as the Santa Cruz Operation, claimed ownership of the source code for the Unix operating system. In 2004, SCO sued Novell and asked that the courts assign all of that company's Unix copyright registrations to it.
Actually, SCO sued Novell for "slander of title" by claiming those rights for itself. SCO said the rights were part of an asset-transfer agreement the parties had entered. Novell denied this and in 2007 the court found in its favor.
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