Microsoft antitrust suit tossed on hung jury

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SALT LAKE CITY - A federal judge on Friday dismissed a Utah company's $1 billion federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

Novell claims Microsoft duped it into developing the once-popular WordPerfect writing program for Windows 95 only to pull the plug so Microsoft could gain market share with its own product. Novell says it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss.

The trial has been ongoing in Salt Lake City for two months. Jurors got the case Wednesday morning, but by Friday told the judge they were "hopelessly deadlocked."

They had expressed confusion to the judge about the complicated case throughout deliberations, even bringing one question to the court that could not be answered. The judge told jurors to simply disregard the question.

Earlier Friday, the judge denied a request from one juror to be removed from the case.

Microsoft lawyers have argued that Novell's loss of market share was its own doing because the company didn't develop a compatible WordPerfect program until long after the rollout of Windows 95. WordPerfect once had nearly 50 percent of the market for word processing, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Microsoft's own Office programs took hold.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates testified last month that he had no idea his decision to drop a tool for outside developers would sidetrack Novell. Gates said he was acting to protect Windows 95 and future versions from crashing.

Novell could have worked around the problem but failed to react quickly, he said.

Novell has argued that Gates ordered Microsoft engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 word processing application because he feared it was too good.

Novell's lawsuit is the last major private antitrust case to follow the settlement of a federal antitrust enforcement action against Microsoft more than eight years ago. The trial began in October in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Novell is now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Attachmate Group, the result of a merger that was completed earlier this year.

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