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Bill Gates expected to testify Monday in Novell, Microsoft antitrust trial

Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist is expected to be the first defense witness as Novell rested its case last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist is expected to be the first defense witness as Novell rested its case last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Bill Gates is scheduled Monday to defend Microsoft against antitrust allegations leveled by one-time competitor Novell in what has become a testy federal trial between the two computer giants.

The Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist is expected to be the first defense witness as Novell rested its case last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. Gates could be on the stand for two days.

Gates will be stepping into a courtroom where lawyers on both sides have passionately and intensely questioned witnesses and argued with each other. Both have resisted the court's urging to settle the long-running dispute. Early in the trial, Judge J. Frederick Motz told them they got themselves there and now they're going to have to fight it out.

The last time Gates was in Utah was under more pleasurable circumstances. He attended the premier of "Waiting for Superman" at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

As Microsoft prepared to put on its defense, it filed a motion asking Motz to dismiss the 12-person jury and rule in its favor.

"Based on the evidence at trial, no reasonable jury could find in Novell's favor," Microsoft attorneys wrote.

Novell countered in a memorandum that it has met its burden of proof and presented the same evidence that led the court to previously conclude that the case is appropriate for a jury to determine.

Motz heard arguments Friday for and against Microsoft's motion for judgment, and those arguments are anticipated to resume as part of Monday's proceedings.

Since the trial started Oct. 17, Novell has shown jurors 62 hours of video deposition, put on 18 live witnesses, including former Novell CEO Robert J. Frankenberg, and presented 555 exhibits in the complex case.

The dispute between the two companies dates back at least 16 years when Microsoft released its Windows 95 operating system along with its Word and Excel programs. Novell, using thousands of pieces computer code provided by Microsoft, also was working on word processing and spreadsheet applications for Windows.

Novell contends that in October 1994, Microsoft, specifically Gates, purposefully withdrew support for a small piece of that code, preventing the Provo-based company from using it in its software. That decision, Novell argues, delayed its release of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro for Windows 95 until May 1996.

Microsoft Word and Excel went on the dominate the computer software market.

Novell bought WordPerfect in 1994 for $1.4 billion. It sold the Orem-based company and Quattro Pro less than two years later for only $145 million.

Microsoft attorneys say Novell bought a failing company in WordPerfect and was slow to recognize the emergence of Windows. It contends Windows 95 delays were based on technical decisions regarding features in the operating system.

In its lawsuit filed in 2004, Novell seeks at least $2 billion in compensation. The suit originally contained six antitrust claims against Microsoft, five of which were dismissed the past seven years.

Until the trial started, the issues were largely argued in Maryland, where the federal court consolidated several other antitrust cases involving Microsoft. Because Motz oversaw the case there, he traveled to Utah to preside over the trial on the lone unresolved issue.

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