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Bristol gets ally in Microsoft suit

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal files a "friend-of-the-court" brief to help the firm in its private antitrust suit against Microsoft.

Bristol Technology gained an important ally in its private antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a "friend of the court" brief in the dispute.

In the brief, Blumenthal disputed assertions Microsoft attorneys made in a recent filing that Bristol lacked standing to file an antitrust case against the software giant because the two were not competitors.

"Bristol does not just deliver a Microsoft product down the chain of commerce; its Wind/U product has the potential for promoting competition between Windows NT and Unix operating systems," the amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, argues. "Microsoft's anticompetitive conduct, while obviously inflicting harm to Bristol, more importantly serves to stifle competition in these key technology markets."

Microsoft has vigorously denied any wrongdoing in the case. Redmond officials point to a similar licensing agreement still in place with Bristol competitor MainSoft as proof that the software giant is still committed to building products that bridge the gap between Windows and Unix platforms.

"The attorney general's office is obviously free to do what they wish," said Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla. The friend-of-the court brief "doesn't change the fact that Bristol's case is totally without merit and is really a simple contract dispute borne out of Bristol's inability to negotiate terms of a licensing agreement that are more favorable than one of their competitors."

Blumenthal is by no means new to criticizing Microsoft. The attorney general has been a vocal critic of Microsoft's business practices and is one of the lead attorneys on a separate antitrust suit filed by the Justice Department (DOJ) and 20 states. Trial in that suit is slated for October 19.

In a suit filed in August, Bristol accuses Microsoft of inducing it to enter into a partnership to translate, or "port," certain Windows technologies so they can run on Unix environments. Once Bristol had "bet its future" on the arrangement, the suit alleges, Microsoft drastically raised the royalties it would charge Bristol for Windows NT source code. The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, claims Microsoft's conduct violates state and federal antitrust laws.

Bristol is a Danbury, Connecticut-based maker of cross-platform tools for software developers. In 1994, Microsoft agreed to license Windows source code that would aid Bristol in building a product known as Wind/U. The agreement, which was part of a program Microsoft referred to as WISE, or Windows Interface Source Environment, expired in 1997. The two parties were unable to agree on royalty rates for a renewed license.

Blumenthal's brief comes at the explicit objection of Microsoft attorneys, who last week told the judge hearing Bristol's case that it would be inappropriate under federal guidelines for the Connecticut attorney general to file the document. "The attorney general has made no showing that he will address issues or provide arguments that will not already be presented by Bristol," Microsoft attorney David Tulchin argued in a letter addressed to U.S. District Judge Janet Hall.

"More over, amicus curiae submissions are ordinarily not appropriate where--as here--the proponent of the submission is already engaged in litigation against the same party."

In a ruling released late last Friday, however, Hall disagreed.

"The additional legal analysis offered by [Blumenthal] will aid the court in its evaluation of the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunctive relief," Hall wrote.