Appeals Court Offers Up Mixed Bag In Sun-Microsoft Case

San Francisco6:56 PM EST Mon., Aug. 23, 1999

A federal appeals court said Monday that Sun Microsystems is likely to prevail in its long-running Java case against Microsoft Corp., but questioned whether Microsoft's actions constituted copyright infringement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wants Judge Ronald M. Whyte, who issued a preliminary injunction against Microsoft last fall, to explain how Microsoft's acts constitute copyright infringement rather than breach of contract, unfair competition, trademark violations or nothing at all.

The appeals court also agreed with Microsoft by saying that the district court should not have presumed irreparable harm from copyright infringement claims before determining whether compatibility requirements were a limit on the scope of the license.

As has become customary in this long-running dispute, both sides claimed victory.

Jon Kannegaard, acting president of Sun's software products and platforms division, said the company was confident of winning the case after Monday's opinion.

"We think that the record of Microsoft's actions speak for themselves...and that Judge Whyte will make the necessary findings to sustain this," he said.

And while it looks as though Sun is in the lead, a spokesman for Microsoft said that the opinion was positive for the company in a long case.

"We continue to believe that we lived up to our contract and all our actions were pro-competitive and pro-customer and the end result was more choices.....this [ruling] reaffirms our belief that this is a disagreement about a contract between Microsoft and Sun," he said.

Last November, Whyte, on behalf of the District Court in San Jose, Calif., awarded Sun, Palo Alto, Calif., a preliminary injunction which, among other things, forced Microsoft, Redmond, Wash. to use JNI (Java Native Interface) in its Java products.

Microsoft appealed in June. Now the Appeals Court has bounced the ball back into Whyte's District Court by vacating the preliminary injunction and remanding for further proceedings.

A date for Whyte's review has not been set.

Sun sued Microsoft in the fall of 1997 for breaching its Java licensing agreement. Sun alleged that Microsoft was "polluting" the technology to create programs that run only on Microsoft's operating system, when Java was created to be compatible with all operating systems.

(BARBARA DARROW also contributed to this story.)

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