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Sun considers private antitrust suit against Microsoft

The network computing company is considering a lawsuit against the software giant but says it is being very cautious about such a course of action.

Sun Microsystems is considering a private antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft but is being very cautious about such a course of action, the company said today.

"The company is obligated to look at that response," a spokeswoman said, adding that the company "may decide to do nothing." Sun is carefully reviewing Monday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that concluded Microsoft violated antitrust law. "That could take a great amount of time," the spokeswoman said.

If Sun were to file an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, it likely would accuse Microsoft of maintaining its monopoly power by attacking Sun's Java software, said Rich Gray of Outside General Counsel Silicon Valley.

Java is software developed by Sun that lets programs run on a wide variety of computers without having to be rejiggered for each new environment. Sun sued Microsoft for adding extensions that made Java work differently on Windows computers, arguing that the move undermined the universality of Java, violated Microsoft's license to use Java software, and infringed Sun's Java copyright.

Jackson Monday ruled that Microsoft "employed an array of tactics designed to maximize the difficulty with which applications written in Java could be ported from Windows to other platforms, and vice versa. It is clear...that Microsoft's actions markedly impeded Java's progress."

No trial date is set in Sun's current Java lawsuit, Sun general counsel Michael Morris said in an interview with CNET

In January, U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte reinstated much of an earlier preliminary injunction that required Microsoft to make its Java software conform better with Sun's rules. The injunction had been overturned by an appeals court. In reinstating the injunction, though, Whyte didn't take Sun's side about whether Microsoft had violated Sun's Java copyright.

If Gray were advising Sun, he would suggest that it wait for the two current legal cases to conclude, which could provide judgments that would be solid evidence in a new antitrust suit.

However, he wouldn't be surprised if Sun decided against such a suit.

"It's an expensive undertaking, it is a distraction, and it is a fight that would just be about money, when Sun is entering a knock-down, drag-out fight in the server space," Gray said. Sun might choose to channel its energies into more conventional marketing and product development efforts instead, he said.

Just talking about filing an antitrust suit doesn't gain Sun much, either legally or by sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of Microsoft partners. "Microsoft has so many problems now that somebody just thinking about a lawsuit can't cause too much additional anxiety in Redmond," Gray said.