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Microsoft urges court to overturn Java ruling

In a legal sideshow, attorneys for Microsoft urge an appeals court to overturn an injunction that bars Microsoft from distributing Java software that doesn't pass Sun Microsystems' compatibility tests.

In a legal sideshow, attorneys for Microsoft today urged the Federal Court of Appeals to overturn an injunction that bars Microsoft from distributing Java software that doesn't pass Sun Microsystems' compatibility tests. Sun created Java and licensed it to Microsoft, among others.

The three-judge panel that heard the appeal today isn't expected to issue a ruling for months, possibly a year. On the legal front, next week's hearing in San Jose before Judge Ronald Whyte, who issued the disputed injunction, looms larger because it will deal with substantive issues in the dispute.

On the technology front, Sun's JavaOne developers conference, now underway in San Francisco only a few blocks down the street from the appeals court, will influence Java's future far more than the eventual appeals court ruling.

The case revolves around a licensing dispute between Sun and Microsoft. Sun contends Microsoft's version of Java must pass a series of compatibility tests before Microsoft sells software that it calls "Java." Microsoft argues that its Java products are more compatible than those of other licensees are. It also disputes the relevance of some of Sun's compatibility tests.

Today's legal arguments turned on the narrow question of whether Judge Whyte acted correctly in issuing the injunction based on copyright law. Microsoft argued that any injunction should have been issued based on contract law. Sun said copyright law was the proper standard.

Sun attorney Rusty Day told reporters after the hearing that the argument was procedural and would have no impact on Sun.

"If the Court of Appeals reverses, it all goes back to [Judge Whyte's] District Court," said Day. There Sun could request a new injunction based on the contract instead of copyright law. But Microsoft says that would be a tougher standard.

"The District Court ignored the contract, and by ignoring the contract we are treated as a [software]pirate," Microsoft attorney Karl Quackenbush told reporters. He said Sun could terminate the contract but instead has withheld new Java technology from Microsoft since the suit was filed. Microsoft continues to pay for the license, he said.

"We are paying millions and not getting the benefit," said Quackenbush.

Day said Sun has not terminated the contract because Microsoft has obligations to fulfill.

"We want to hold them to the obligation to be distributing a compliant version of Java," the Sun attorney said.