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Symantec retreats in antivirus war

Turning away from its previous comments, Symantec issue a public apology to rival McAfee, regarding comments that it has won the pending copyright infringement suit.

Turning away from its previous comments, Symantec (SYMC) issued a public apology to rival McAfee (MCAF), regarding comments that it has won the pending copyright infringement suit.

The apology said news releases issued on July 22 and 25, which declared Symantec won the copyright infringement suit against McAfee are incorrect, as no judgment has been rendered at this time. "We correct the above and apologize," said Narita Akihiko, president of Symantec Japan, in the statement.

In other developments, McAfee dropped its suit against Symantec in Japan, but the $1 billion defamation and trade libel suit filed late last week in the United States still stands.

As previously reported by CNET's NEWS.COM, McAfee filed its action against Symantec in California Superior Court in Santa Clara County and is requesting $1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. McAfee has already filed similar suits in Japan.

McAfee's suits came in response to a press release Symantec issued, which accuses its rival of lying about the facts of ongoing litigation between the companies.

Symantec's release stated that McAfee admitted copying code from its antivirus products. McAfee, however, said it has never admitted it has ever used copied code.

"McAfee admitted that Symantec code is actually present in its flagship product, VirusScan, after denying this, in earlier press releases. This compounds McAfee's earlier admission that it had engaged in copying of the core functionality of Symantec's CrashGuard product, and had inserted it into its own PC Medic product," the Symantec release said.

And in a statement from Symantec's chief technical officer, Enrique Salem, said: "It is remarkable that McAfee would attempt to downplay their culpability by claiming that even though the Symantec code is present in VirusScan, it is not 'used.' The fact is that McAfee slipped Symantec's CrashGuard code into their PC Medic product, and when Symantec investigated, outside experts found that McAfee had even more of our code in their products."

The original lawsuit was filed in April and amended in July. It will have its first hearing on October 3. But McAfee's $1 billion lawsuit is a separate action.

In the original suit, Symantec alleged McAfee used its codes in some of the McAfee software. In July, Symantec further alleged that McAfee's VirusScan antivirus software infringed on its copyrights.

McAfee said in a statement that Symantec's claims regarding its VirusScan were unfounded, noting that the code in question has never performed any function in any version of VirusScan shipped anywhere in the world.

Peter Watkins, McAfee's vice president and general manager of the network security division, said yesterday that McAfee is going to petition the court to dismiss Symantec's claims and that the company was not interested in filing any countersuits.

"I want to get on with competing [against Symantec] with products, because I don't want to compete in the courtroom. I want to move on with business and we have not filed any countersuits," Watkins said at the time. Apparently the tone of Symantec's release changed McAfee's feelings about going to the courts.

Both companies are named in another patent infringement suit that was filed by Trend Micro in May.

The day that the $1 billion suit was filed, McAfee's stock dropped 7 percent in trading to 55, while Symantec gained about 5 percent to 25-1/2.