Jury could soon decide $1B Novell-Microsoft case
Jurors who have sat through a trial that's stretched over eight weeks may begin deciding as early as Tuesday whether they believe a decision made by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in 1994 was anticompetitive and caused Utah-based Novell Inc. $1 billion worth of harm.
Attorneys for Microsoft Corp. rested their case Monday in a lawsuit in which Novell is asking the federal jury in Salt Lake City to find that Gates wanted to try to delay a Novell software suite featuring WordPerfect in order to preserve his company's monopoly on personal computer operating systems.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday morning, but the jury might not begin deliberations until the following day. Testimony in the trial could continue for a short time Tuesday if U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz decides to allow Novell to present rebuttal witnesses.
But in contentious arguments Monday after the jury had left for the day, Motz said he wasn't inclined to grant Novell's request for witnesses to counter what some of Microsoft's witnesses have said during the past three weeks, when it presented its case.
"The record is complete," the judge snapped at one point after Novell attorney Jeffrey Johnson tried to argue that Novell was justified in calling witnesses back to the stand. The judge added, "You're just trying to get the last word and you're not going to get it."
When Johnson continued to press, the judge said, "I'm just not going to put up with this. This is eight weeks of over-litigation."
However, Motz also said that on Tuesday morning, before the jury returns to the courtroom, he would allow Novell attorneys to tell him what the witnesses would say and make a final decision then.
The two sides also argued Monday over whether Microsoft attorney David Tulchin could point out in his closing arguments that Novell had waited for nine years after Gates' decision to file a lawsuit, implying Novell was simply trolling for a jury award after not having complained about the Gates' decision when it occurred.
Johnson countered that although Novell had been angered by the Gates' decision, it did not realize it had a possible legal claim until the U.S. Justice Department sued Microsoft in 1999 under antitrust laws and uncovered hundreds of internal company documents.
"We didn't know this action was taken for anticompetitive reasons," Johnson said.
Motz ruled that Tulchin could not mention that length of time in his arguments, saying "it seems there's plenty of evidence for you to argue about."
Microsoft ended its case, which featured two days of testimony by Gates earlier in trial, with it final witness, John Bennett, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado. He backed the Redmond, Wash., company's contention that the software feature in question could have made the Windows operating system unstable if it were put into use by software programs from other companies.