Microsoft, Bristol fire opening salvos

Lawyers for Microsoft and Bristol Technologies squared off this week in a crowded courtroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut, as Bristol's private antitrust action against the giant software maker got underway. Videotaped testimony from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is expected to be presented on Monday.

Lawyers for Microsoft and Bristol Technologies squared off this week in a crowded courtroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut, as Bristol's private antitrust action against the giant software maker got underway.

After 15-minute opening statements from each side, Ken Blackwell, chief technical officer of Bristol Technologies, took the stand as Bristol's first witness. Microsoft began its cross-examination of Blackwell shortly before the hearing closed for the day this afternoon.

When Microsoft has finished questioning Blackwell, expected Monday, Bristol plans to introduce videotaped testimony from Microsoft Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Gates.

The courtroom and viewing gallery were crowded today with staff, reporters, television cameras and curious onlookers, Keith Blackwell, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Bristol, said in a telephone interview.

"There's a lot of equipment in there; it looks like a Comdex tradeshow," he said. As well as the computers and monitors littering the courtroom, two large viewing screens which the lawyers are using to help explain their arguments stand on either side of the 10-person jury box, Keith Blackwell said.

In its lawsuit filed last August in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Bristol charges that Microsoft behaved anticompetitively when it allegedly refused to renew Bristol's Windows NT source code license on reasonable terms.

Bristol makes Wind/U, a software suite used to port Windows applications to other operating systems, including Unix. The company says it must have access to the Windows NT source code to build its product.

According to Bristol, Microsoft licensed its source code to Bristol because it believed Wind/U would help Windows NT penetrate the workstation and server markets. It then effectively cut Bristol's license off when Microsoft's strategy called for it, sounding the death knell for Bristol Technologies, the suit claims.

Microsoft responds that Bristol is using the courts to unfairly gain an advantage over a competitor, Mainsoft Corp., which makes a similar product to Wind/U. Microsoft also claims that Mainsoft is licensing Windows NT source code under "virtually identical" terms as those which Bristol is calling unreasonable, Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla said today.

As Microsoft paints it, the squabble between the companies is a contract dispute, and not about antitrust law.

Both sides said the opening day of the trial went well for them.

"(Microsoft) certainly didn't score any points in there today," Keith Blackwell said.

Pilla countered that Microsoft's attorney secured "several key admissions from Ken Blackwell" during cross-examination.

Bristol's case is separate from the antitrust case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and 19 states against Microsoft, currently under way in Washington, D.C., but the judge overseeing that case has given Bristol and the DOJ permission to exchange information, Keith Blackwell said.

"We got an order signed by Judge Penfield Jackson yesterday saying it's OK to pass evidence back and forth between us, and our attorneys end up speaking to their attorneys, so there's definitely some collaboration there," he said.

The lawsuits are similar in that they both allege that Microsoft has a monopoly in the desktop operating system market, and that it unlawfully leveraged that position to maintain or extend its monopoly into other markets.

One key difference is that Bristol's private antitrust suit will be decided by a jury. Ken Blackwell used much of his time on the stand today to present a tutorial to help the jury understand technical issues in the case, Keith Blackwell said.

"The jury were all incredibly attentive today," he said. "Even though the case involves some very technical issues, when you boil it down they understand the type of behavior that we believe Microsoft has engaged in."

The trial is expected to last about six weeks.

Both companies have posted background information about the case and court filings on their Web sites. Bristol's is at http://www.bristol.com/legal/index.html; Microsoft's is at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/bti/.

Bristol Technologies Inc., in Danbury, Connecticut, can be reached at 1+1-203-798-1007, or at http://www.bristol.com. In Redmond, Washington, Microsoft can be reached at +1-425-882-8080, or at http://www.microsoft.com.

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