Microsoft's victory today over Bristol is a strong psychological win for a company whose image has been tarnished by a series of lawsuits, but it is unlikely to give Microsoft
much legal traction in its battle in other arenas, some
Still, a federal jury's unanimous verdict that Bristol had not met its burden in
proving Microsoft violated
Connecticut and federal antitrust charges, is likely to give Microsoft
opponents pause before they file their own antitrust lawsuits, some
The jury, convened in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, said
that Bristol had failed to prove that distinct markets existed for sales of
workstation and server operating systems. For the jury to decide other
issues in the case, such as whether Microsoft monopolized the workstation
industry, it first had to agree that the "relevant markets" existed.
The particular dynamics at play in the Bristol lawsuit mean that the win is
not likely to carry much weight in separate court cases that also accuse
Microsoft of violating antitrust laws, legal observers said.
"It's certainly a welcome victory for Microsoft, but it doesn't end its
antitrust problems, and I don't think it's going to have a major impact on
the outcome of any of their other cases," said John Lopatka, a professor of
law at the University of South Carolina.
"Microsoft may win the other cases brought against it, but not because of
In the case carrying the highest stakes, the Justice Department and 19 states accuse
Microsoft of engaging in a broad pattern of conduct designed to reinforce
its alleged monopoly in operating systems and to secure a new monopoly on
the Internet. A final outcome in the case is not expected until late this
year or early next year.
A separate private suit filed by software maker Caldera is set to go to trial next
January. Orem, Utah-based Caldera claims Microsoft used its dominance in
the software industry in the late 1980's and early 1990's to crush
competition from a product called DR-DOS, which Caldera obtained in 1996.
Caldera is seeking $1.6 billion in damages.
Both cases attempt to define a market for operating systems for personal
computers, which is far different than the market Bristol was attempting to
Microsoft senior corporate attorney Steve Aeschbacher said that the Bristol
jury's verdict was "helpful," but agreed that is was not "dispositive" or
legally binding on the other cases.
"One takeaway from this case is that it shows that...there's intense
competition in the software industry and that Microsoft's actions have been
pro-competitive," Aeschbacher said in an interview. "Those are very powerful messages that are equally true in other cases."
Still, the verdict may serve as a wake-up call to Microsoft critics, said
some attorneys. "The Bristol case...signals that you must show more than
hardball business practices to prevail" in an antitrust case, said Hillard
Sterling, an antitrust litigator at Gordon
& Glickson. It also is likely to make opponents considering filing
antitrust claims against Microsoft think twice.
"This is going to demonstrate that private plaintiffs are going to have one
tough row to hoe against Microsoft," said Lewis Noonberg, an antitrust
attorney at Piper & Marbury. "It
will discourage the Calderas and the Bristols."