Bristol suit cites Microsoft papers

The firm is the latest to use internal Microsoft documents to argue that the software giant has engaged in predatory behavior.

3 min read
Bristol Technology today became the latest company to use internal Microsoft documents to argue that the software giant has engaged in predatory behavior.

In a brief reiterating why Microsoft should be ordered to turn over source code to it, Bristol also cited support from an executive at Sun Microsystems who contradicted Microsoft's contention that the software giant does not compete against Bristol. Bristol is a Danbury, Connecticut, maker of cross-platform tools.

In a suit filed in mid August, Bristol alleged that Microsoft induced it to license source code that would be used translate certain Windows software so it could run on Unix platforms. After Bristol had "bet its future" on the relationship, Microsoft abandoned the project by radically changing licensing terms for giving access to Windows NT source code, Bristol claims. The suit claims Microsoft's conduct violated federal antitrust laws and seeks a court order requiring Microsoft to turn over the source code to Bristol.

Microsoft responded last week by characterizing the matter as a simple contract dispute, arguing that Bristol lacked standing to bring an antitrust suit because the two companies are not competitors.

In today's brief, Bristol refutes that notion. The filing includes an affidavit by Brian Croll, Sun's director of product marketing for Solaris, a proprietary version of Unix. In it, Croll argues that Microsoft and Bristol in fact are competitors. By allowing Unix platforms to perform functions that once were available only on Windows NT systems, Bristol's cross-platform products compete with Microsoft's products, Croll explains.

Specifically, Bristol's Wind/U product allows software developers to "port," or translate, Windows NT code to Solaris. Wind/U lets Solaris run a wider selection of software, "thereby reducing the principal advantage that NT has to offer in relation to Solaris," Croll claimed.

In 1994, Microsoft and Bristol entered into partnerships to port a number of Windows functions to other platforms. The partnership, formally referred to as Windows Interface Source Environment or WISE, called for Microsoft to license its source code so that third-parties could create cross-platform tools. The deal with Bristol fell apart after the original contract expired in 1997 and Microsoft raised the price it would charge for later versions of Windows NT

In its filing today, Bristol cites internal Microsoft documents in alleging that Microsoft attempted to use the partnership as a "Trojan horse" to thwart several emerging technologies that would compete with the dominant Windows products.

"WISE was launched at a time when several companies were attempting to counter the dominance of the Windows programming interfaces," Bristol attorneys argued in a heavily edited, or "redacted" version of the brief. "The WISE Trojan horse was credited with killing off these threats to Microsoft's monopoly power.... These are 'affirmative actions' that distorted the natural development of the market."

Bristol claims two technologies in particular--a Windows application binary interface developed by Sun, and an open public Windows interface--threatened adoption of NT. But once Microsoft eliminated the threats, it killed WISE by demanding unreasonable royalties.

Today's brief appears to quote extensively from internal messages sent among Microsoft managers. Bristol attorneys redacted the messages from the public version because Microsoft claims they divulge trade secrets.

"We believe that the internal documents and communications within Microsoft show exactly what we were alleging, which is Microsoft being predatory against the Unix operating system in their actions with Bristol," Bristol president Keith Blackwell said in an interview. "It's nice to have their own documents implicate them."

But a Microsoft representative reiterated the company's belief that Bristol's suit is an attempt to use the federal courts as a negotiation tool.

"Bristol's accusation that we're trying to block Unix just doesn't hold water," Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla said. "It's clear to any observer that we have already licensed the same source code to another company in the same space," he contended, referring to a firm known as MainSoft, which is also a WISE partner. "As we have said before, Bristol's case is illogical and wholly without merit."