Microsoft Wins Antitrust Case as Top Court Rejects Novell

The U.S. Supreme Court ended a lawsuit that accused Microsoft Corp. of illegally protecting its Windows computer operating system from competition 20 years ago by undercutting a rival word-processing program.

Declining to take up a lingering antitrust case stemming from Microsoft’s software dominance in the 1990s, the justices today rejected without comment an appeal by Novell Inc., which once made the WordPerfect application.

Novell was looking to revive a lawsuit that accused Microsoft of anticompetitive conduct during development of its Windows 95 operating system in 1994. Novell said that, late in the rollout process, Microsoft withheld software components known as namespace extensions so competing developers would have trouble making their programs run smoothly on Windows.

Novell said the move slowed the development of WordPerfect, a word-processing program that posed a threat to Microsoft’s Word.

In throwing out the lawsuit, a Denver-based federal appeals court said “antitrust laws rarely impose on firms -- even dominant firms -- a duty to deal with their rivals.” The ruling upheld a federal trial judge’s opinion.

Novell, now part of privately held Wizard Parent LLC, argued in its appeal that Microsoft “made its own operating system less attractive to consumers in order to crush competition and protect its operating system monopoly.”

The case bore some similarities to the 1998 Justice Department lawsuit that at one point produced a court order that would have split Microsoft into two companies. An appeals court overturned that order, and the company later settled the case by agreeing to let computer makers promote rival software products.

Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t take part in the Supreme Court action. He was involved as a lawyer in the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft.

The case is Novell v. Microsoft, 13-1042.

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