Sun sues Microsoft over Java, antitrust issues

Sun Microsystems Inc. has filed a private federal antitrust lawsuit in a U.S. court against Microsoft Corp., accusing the company of harming competition by using its monopoly in the market for PC operating systems to undermine the success of Sun’s Java technology, the company said Friday.

The suit accuses Microsoft of trying to undermine the success of Java by, among other things, distributing a version of the technology with its products that is not compatible with Sun’s. Sun is seeking a series of preliminary injunctions against Microsoft, one of which would require it to distribute a current version of Sun’s technology with Windows XP and Internet Explorer.

Sun noted in the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., that a U.S. federal court of appeals in June last year found Microsoft guilty of abusing its monopoly power, in part because of its dealings with Sun and the Java platform.

The companies’ legal battle over Java goes back to 1997, when Sun filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in which it made similar claims. As part of a settlement in that case reached in January last year, Microsoft agreed to pay Sun US$20 million and adopted a new Java licensing agreement that greatly limited the way in which it could use Java.

Sun said that its new lawsuit is broader in scope that the breach-of-contract suit it filed in 1997. Terms of the settlement reached in the original lawsuit “specifically provided that Sun did not release any of its claims under antitrust laws,” the company said in a statement on its Web site.

The new lawsuit expands the sanctions against Microsoft being pursued by the U.S. states that have yet to reach a settlement with Microsoft in its antitrust battle with the U.S. government, Sun said. In that case, the U.S. Department of Justice and nine of the suing states have agreed to settlement terms with Microsoft, while a further nine states plus the District of Columbia are pushing for harsher sanctions.

“This private antitrust lawsuit is intended to restore competition in the marketplace by removing unlawful barriers to the distribution of the Java platform and to interoperability between Microsoft software and competitive technologies,” Sun said in its statement Friday. “The achievement of these goals will allow for greater innovation and increased customer choice.”

A Microsoft spokesman said the company has not had time to review the lawsuit, but had several immediate points to make.

“It’s time to move past these issues, many of which are related to a lawsuit the parties settled last year,” said Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman.

“Sadly, the real losers in this type of litigation are software developers. The industry is at its best when we focus on innovation and developing great products.”

Desler said any lack of acceptance of Java is Sun’s responsibility.

“Millions of consumers using Windows easily access and use Java technology every day. Java technology is widely used and any lack of consumer acceptance of Java is due to Sun’s own failures and not actions by Microsoft.”

In the new lawsuit, Sun charged, specifically, that Microsoft tried to fragment the Java platform by “flooding the market” with Java Runtime Environments that are incompatible with Sun’s technology. It accused Microsoft of forcing other companies to distribute or use incompatible products, and also said the company is guilty of copyright infringement for distributing an unlicensed version of Java.

Since it filed its original lawsuit in 1997, Sun has argued that Microsoft sees Java as a major threat to the hegemony of Windows, in large part because Java programs can run on any operating system. Microsoft distributed its “polluted” version of Java in a bid to break Java’s cross-platform capabilities and limit its popularity, Sun has argued. Microsoft has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying that it stuck to the letter of its licensing contract with Sun.

Sun Microsystems of Canada in Markham, Ont., is at

Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., is at

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