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Bill Gates to testify today in Novell suit against Microsoft

Gates is expected to testify in a $1 billion antitrust lawsuit in which Novell has accused Microsoft of intentionally damaging sales of its former WordPerfect software.

Bill Gates is due to testify today in an ongoing court case between Microsoft and Novell.
Bill Gates is due to testify today in an ongoing court case between Microsoft and Novell.

Bill Gates is scheduled to take the stand today in a Novell-versus-Microsoft antitrust case whose origins stretch back as far as 1995.

Launched in 2004 by Novell, the lawsuit alleges that Microsoft used anti-competitive tactics to hurt Novell's WordPerfect and Quattro Pro products by holding back key technical information required to make them compatible with Windows 95. Novell claims that Microsoft initially promised its support for the two applications but then pulled back to combat any potential competition against Microsoft Office.

In its suit filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Novell is seeking $1.2 billion in damages, alleging that Microsoft's actions resulted in a significant loss of market share for both WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. As a result, Novell was forced to sell both products to Corel in 1996 at a substantial loss after initially buying them for more than $1 billion.

In response, Microsoft has denied the claims and says it rejected WordPerfect for Windows 95 because the software was unstable. The company has asked the court to dimiss the case.

Since 2004, the case has bounced around from one venue to another, according to Bloomberg. This past May, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, brought back the case after it had been dismissed by a lower court. The case then jumped to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore, who had originally dismissed it but is now hearing it again in the federal court in Salt Lake City, where Gates is slated to testify.

But Motz has proven to be a tough sell at buying Novell's argument. In a hearing last Friday, the judge said he didn't feel that Novell has yet shown enough evidence to support its claims, asking for proof in the form of documents or e-mails, according to the Associated Press.

"Not surprisingly, Bill Gates is testifying to defend what he created," Anthony Sabino, a professor at St. John's University's Peter J. Tobin College of Business and an authority on antitrust law, said in a comment sent to CNET. "Moreover, he's quite adept at this, having defended Microsoft from the government's similar accusations a decade and a half ago...Clearly, Novell has a right to make its claims, but its chances of prevailing at this late date are spotty as best."

Updated 9:00 a.m. PT with comment from Anthony Sabino of St. John's University.