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Net greeting card firm sues Microsoft

Blue Mountain Arts joins the ranks of Apple, RealNetworks, Sun, and Bristol Technology in accusing Microsoft of unfair business practices.

    An online greeting card distributor became one of the latest companies to accuse Microsoft of unfair business practices, claiming in a lawsuit that the software giant uses its popular products to "block" the delivery of thousands of electronic greetings that compete with a similar service recently established by Microsoft.

    The lawsuit, filed this week in San Jose, California, alleges that Microsoft has tried "to disrupt and ultimately to destroy [Blue Mountain Arts'] valuable Internet greeting card business." Blue Mountain is an online greeting card publisher and distributor based in Boulder, Colorado.

    According to the Microsoft's day in court lawsuit, a prerelease version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 causes email notifications sent by Blue Mountain to be filed automatically into a junk mail folder instead of a user's in-box.

    A Microsoft spokesman said the company is working to fix the problem, which is caused by an antispam filter found in Outlook Express, an email program included with the beta version of Internet Explorer 5.0. But Blue Mountain alleges Microsoft is exploiting the filter to give a leg up to its own online greetings service, which Microsoft recently established.

    What's more, the conduct "is part of a larger pattern or practice of Microsoft to block or break competitors' software or services, or to otherwise interfere with a competitor's customer relations," the lawsuit alleges. The complaint goes on to cite recent allegations by RealNetworks and Apple Computer that Microsoft breaks their multimedia software.

    Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla called the lawsuit "frivolous," noting that Microsoft was actively trying to work with Blue Mountain to address the problem, which he added filters out Microsoft greeting cards as well.

    "It's clear that they're not working to find any solution here. They just want to file a lawsuit," said Pilla. He said the problem is caused by a new feature designed to filter out spam from the in-box of a user's email program, not by any attempts to harm Blue Mountain.

    "If you follow Blue Mountain's logic here, people ought to be able to sue their telephone company because it offers callers popular options such as caller ID and caller blocking," Pilla added.

    But James DiBoise, an attorney with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm that is well-known for representing Microsoft foes, said he hired an independent consultant who found that Internet Explorer filters his client's greetings while allowing those from Microsoft to go through normally.

    "We didn't go through this without asking someone to verify what's going on," DiBoise said. He added that the suit seeks an order requiring Microsoft to immediately fix the problem and to pay any damages that it may have been caused.

    The number of companies accusing Microsoft of unfair or anticompetitive practices has been growing. In an antitrust trial pending in Washington Netscape Communications, America Online, and Apple have all accused Microsoft of using what they describe as its monopoly power to snuff out competition.

    Allegations from Sun Microsystems that Microsoft used its dominant Windows operating system to crush cross-platform version of the Java programming language also have featured prominently in the trial, as well as in a private lawsuit pending in San Jose, California.

    Other companies suing Microsoft over its business practices include Bristol Technology and Caldera.