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Judge Backs Sun, 'Kneecaps' Microsoft in Java Hearings

After a week of hearings, several statements by a federal judge indicate he may favor Sun Microsystems in its legal bid to get an injunction that would force Microsoft to include Sun's Java programming language in its software products.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz made some unusual analogies in his court when he said Microsoft's tactics against Sun were akin to Tonya Harding's "knee-capping" of rival Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan.

On Thursday, the final day of the hearings, lawyers for both sides made their closing arguments, and the judge summed up his views on what he heard. Judge Motz, for his part, spoke of "intangible value" for companies competing in a marketplace that isn't distorted by one side. Sun's lead lawyer Lloyd Day said the company faces "imminent harm," if it isn't granted an injunction from the court.

Sun also pushed the point that Microsoft is advancing its own .NET program and in the process diminishing the value of Sun's Java products. Sun's Day said Microsoft was "mugging its principal competitor."

Then Judge Motz from his Baltimore bench compared Microsoft's conduct to a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, where one team would use a camera in centerfield to steal its opponents signals.

But for all of the judge's somewhat bizarre statements, and Sun's unsurprising recriminations of Microsoft, the software giant said Sun's attorneys had "terribly muddled" the legal and competitive issues involved.

Microsoft's witness, University of Chicago economics professor Kevin Murphy, testified that Microsoft's current software market advantage doesn't justify forcing it to include Java in its products. While Sun's lawyers said Microsoft is squelching the growth of Java, Microsoft countered that nearly half of the software development community already uses Java.

But for all the countercharges between the legal teams of Sun and Microsoft, it was the judge, who at the conclusion of the hearing did little to hide his skepticism bordering on contempt for Microsoft's behavior vis-à-vis Java.

Judge Motz wasn't completely unbalanced, while he telegraphed his concerns about Microsoft's tactics, observers think there is a distinct possibility the judge will not grant Sun the immediate relief it is seeking through an injunction.

The central legal issue in question is whether Sun successfully established before the court what is known as "the standard of harm." Judge Motz was far less clear, whether that legal standard had been met.