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RealTime IT News

Go Files Suit Against Microsoft

More accusations against Microsoft's alleged heavy- handed business dealings with competitors surfaced last week, when Go Computer filed an antitrust suit against the company that stemmed from actions nearly 20 years ago.

Jerry Kaplan, the founder of Go, an early entrant into the pen-based computing business, claims Redmond's strong-armed tactics led to his company's ultimate demise.

"Microsoft saw Go's PC operating system as a serious threat to its operating system monopoly and took swift covert action to 'kill' it just as it did the Netscape/Sun Java threat to its monopoly," Go's private action in U.S. federal court alleged, according to the New York Times, which viewed the suit.

The suit, filed last week in United States federal and California state courts, claims Microsoft duped the computer maker by expressing interest in writing software to run on its computer, but instead gleaned details about its operating system and ultimately used the information to defeat it.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said in a statement sent to internetnews.com that the suit would not hold up in court.

"These claims date back nearly 20 years," Drake said. "They were baseless then, and they are baseless now."

Redmond argues the technology of pen-computing -- the idea of portable computers controlled by a pen rather than a keyboard -- had not developed enough to be a viable business when Kaplan sold Go to AT&T in 1994.

"Handwriting recognition had severe limitations in the late 80s and early 90s and no company that attempted pen computing was successful then," Drake said.

The case was filed only a day before a settlement deal was reached between Microsoft and IBM. The software giant agreed to pay $775 million and extend a $75 million credit for software at IBM to resolve claims stemming from the United States v. Microsoft antitrust case in the mid-1990s.

Antitrust experts say Microsoft has a strong defense and a number of options to thwart the lawsuit, including asking a judge to dismiss it because the statute of limitations has run out.

However, Glenn Manishin, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who focuses on telecommunications and technology policy, antitrust and legislative affairs, says although the statute of limitations has run out, Go will point to the 2000 antitrust ruling against the software giant.

Attorneys will likely say the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) case brought once-unavailable information to the forefront, supporting Go's arguments. But even if the lawsuit moves beyond the preliminary sparring, success may be a long shot.

"They face a major causation problem," Manishin told internetnews.com.

Under the Clayton Antitrust Act, he said, the company would have to "prove that but for Microsoft's conduct, they would have had successes in the PC market. And we know other PDAs like the Newtown failed miserably back then. People weren't ready to make that leap."

Manishin, who served as antitrust counsel to MCI, and as a trial attorney with the DoJ, Antitrust Division, says Go could also face some credibility problems with a jury. Because Kaplan only recently regained control of the company, after nearly 15 years, it might not sit well with the jury.

"That would be fertile ground at cross examination at the trial," he said. "The jury would be allowed to factor that into the equation."

For its part, Microsoft argues that Kaplan did not invent pen computing, which in the 1980s was considered a potential rival to Microsoft's operating system.

"Their efforts built on a large body of work by other inventors and companies, and much work was done later -- at great expense -- to develop successful products," Drake said.

Antitrust cases have piled up for Microsoft in the past few years, including the case with the U.S government in 2002 and the ruling of the European Union.