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Microsoft fires back at Sun in Java case

The software giant goes on the offensive in the antitrust case brought against it by Sun Microsystems, accusing its bitter rival of "unfair competition."

WASHINGTON--Microsoft went on the offensive Friday in the antitrust case brought against it by Sun Microsystems, accusing its bitter rival of violating California law through "unfair competition."

In a court filing, the software giant asked a judge for attorney's fees and damages to cover what it characterized as Sun's unlawful violation of a settlement inked in an earlier lawsuit over the Java programming language.

"If (in the ongoing antitrust case) the court is looking at the complex and broad set of issues and products as well as the relationship between Sun and Microsoft over the course of the last several years, there are things that have to be brought to its attention," a Microsoft spokesman said, "such as our charges that Sun has breached its contract and has demonstrated bad faith in its relationship and may have violated California business and professional codes."

The brief said that Sun's actions "were undertaken willfully and deliberately with an intent to cause competitive injury to Microsoft."

Sun Vice President Lee Patch said in a statement that the company "looks forward to bringing evidence to prove the merit of all of our claims and answer Microsoft?s counterclaims at trial."

Microsoft's counterclaims come as part of the company's defense of a private antitrust lawsuit brought by Sun that is taking place before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz. On Jan. 21, Motz issued a preliminary injunction, ordering Microsoft to do two things: distribute Sun's version of Java with Windows and stop distributing its own implementation of the programming language.

Microsoft is appealing Motz's decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which placed the injunction on hold while it reviews the case. Friday's filing before Motz is taking place in parallel with the appeal as part of the preparation for a trial to be held at a still-to-be-determined date.

In the brief, which is largely devoted to refuting the charges in Sun's original complaint, filed last year, Microsoft makes three counterclaims: breach of contract over the January 2001 Java settlement agreement, a breach of "good faith" and a violation of California's business and professional code. The company also asks for court authorization to incorporate its own Java Virtual Machine in Windows XP.

That California law, also known as section 17200, prohibits "any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice." An unfair business practice is, according to California court decisions, something that "offends an established public policy or...is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous or substantially injurious to consumers."

Microsoft did not name a dollar figure for damages, mentioning instead "an amount to be proved at trial."

The 4th Circuit has set a date of April 3 to hear Microsoft's appeal of the preliminary injunction, and each side will have 20 minutes to present its case.

Sun's case builds on a previous legal assault on its rival, which began in October 1997 and alleged that Microsoft violated its license agreement by distributing incompatible versions of Java and deceptively promoting those versions as compatible. The two companies settled in January 2001, with Microsoft agreeing to pay Sun $20 million.

The Java language lets programs run without alterations on a variety of computers. Because a Java program can run, for instance, on a mainframe from IBM, a Unix server from Sun and a Windows PC from Dell Computer, it represents a possible threat to Microsoft.

In the current lawsuit, Sun argues that Microsoft is now trying to supplement--or even replace--its Windows monopoly by encouraging developers to write code for the .Net platform instead of for Java. In addition, Sun says, "Microsoft has refused to port (its popular) Office (software) to competing platforms in order to illegally maintain its monopoly" and to force consumers to purchase products such as Microsoft's Exchange Server, Internet Information Server and SQL Server.