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Originally published December 16, 2011 at 7:17 PM | Page modified December 16, 2011 at 7:28 PM

Novell-Microsoft mistrial over WordPerfect

A judge declared a mistrial in Novell's antitrust trial against Microsoft over the WordPerfect computer program after jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Bloomberg News and Seattle Times technology staff

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A judge declared a mistrial in Novell's antitrust trial against Microsoft over the WordPerfect computer program after jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Jurors in federal court in Salt Lake City sent a note to the judge Friday saying they were deadlocked after deliberating for three days.

After talking to the 12-member panel, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed the jurors, some of whom were in tears.

Lawyers for Novell said the jury was in their company's favor except for one holdout.

Novell sought as much as $1.3 billion in damages over allegations that Microsoft, while developing the Windows 95 operating system in 1994, blocked an element of the software to thwart Novell's WordPerfect and Quattro Pro programs.

Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates testified last month at the trial, telling the jury he "absolutely" denied the allegations.

In a statement, Novell attorney Jim Lundberg expressed disappointment, but suggested the company aims to pursue trying the case again.

"While Novell is disappointed that the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision, Novell still believes in the strength of its claim," he said.

"Clearly, this is a complicated technical case and Novell is hopeful that a retrial will allow the opportunity to address any uncertainties some of the jurors had with this trial."

For its part, Microsoft also said it was disappointed over the jury deadlock.

"We are disappointed that the jury was unable to reach a verdict," said Steve Aeschbacher, an attorney for the company. "However, we very much appreciate their service throughout the trial, and we remain confident that Novell's claims here do not have merit, and look forward to the next steps in the process."

Novell, which briefly owned WordPerfect in the mid-1990s, argued that Microsoft restricted outside programmers' access to "extensions," or programming code, which made it impossible for Novell's programs to run properly on Windows.

Novell, which was bought by Seattle-based Attachmate in April, claimed WordPerfect's share of the word-processing market fell to less than 10 percent in 1996 from almost 50 percent in 1990.

Its value dropped from $1.2 billion in May 1994 to $170 million in 1996, when it was sold to Ottawa-based Corel, Novell said.

The company settled separate antitrust claims against Redmond-based Microsoft for $536 million in 2004.

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.

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.

He said that the company's preferred Word software was superior to WordPerfect, which was a "bulky, slow, buggy product" that did not integrate well with Windows 95.

During jury deliberations, Motz asked lawyers on both sides whether they would agree to accept a verdict that wasn't unanimous to avoid a mistrial. Microsoft's lawyers refused.

"There was one juror that had difficulty," Jeffrey Johnson, a lawyer for Novell, said after Friday's mistrial. "He had strongly held views and he wasn't going to budge."

Novell's complaint against Microsoft had initially been dismissed by Motz. In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., revived it.

The suit is the last major private antitrust case to follow the settlement of a federal antitrust-enforcement action against Microsoft more than eight years ago.

Material from Seattle Times technology reporter Janet I. Tu and The Associated Press

is included in this report.

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