Novell-Microsoft Trial Over WordPerfect Ends as Jurors Deadlock

Novell Inc.’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. over the WordPerfect computer program ended in a mistrial after jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Jurors in federal court in Salt Lake City told the judge yesterday 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. The trial began Oct. 18.

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.

Novell will probably seek a retrial, said Jim Lundberg, an attorney for the company, who said the jury vote was 11-1 against Microsoft.

“We are hoping that in retrial, although it is technically complicated, that we can convince a jury that Novell’s claims are valid,” he said in an interview.

Steve Aeschbacher, a lawyer for Microsoft, said in an interview the company will probably renew its bid to have the case dismissed for “legal deficiency,” citing flawed antitrust theories.

‘We Are Confident’

“We are disappointed,” Jim Jardine, another attorney for Microsoft, said in an interview. “We hoped to get a verdict. But we are confident. This jury was a very diligent jury, and there are other steps that we can do to move forward.”

Five jurors contacted by Microsoft after they were dismissed said they would not have awarded damages to Novell, Tim Brown, a spokesman for Microsoft, said in an e-mail.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified last month at the trial, telling the jury he “absolutely” denied the allegations.

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 Corp. 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 Corp., Novell said. The company settled separate antitrust claims against Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft for $536 million in 2004.

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 yesterday’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, Virginia, revived it.

The case is Novell Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 04-01045, U.S. District Court, District of Utah (Salt Lake City).