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WordPerfect Jury Deadlocks

"I'm Sorry, We Cannot Come to One Accord"

The jury that sat through eight weeks of complicated testimony and 600 exhibits over whether or not Microsoft broke the antitrust laws and tied a can to WordPerfect's tail to maintain its monopoly after Novell bought the software 17 years ago couldn't come to a unanimous decision Friday after three days of deliberation.

The jury's foreman reportedly sent out a note to the judge late Friday afternoon saying, "I'm sorry, very sorry we cannot come to one accord. I've done the best I know how."

Novell asked for one more day. District Court Judge Frederick Motz - who didn't think the case should be heard in the first place - reportedly asked the five men and seven women on the jury to keep on trying, and take the weekend to think about it, but when they insisted that resolution was hopeless, he dismissed them and declared a mistrial.

They were split 11 to one in Novell's favor, according to Novell lawyers, who indicated the naysayer had strong technical views.

Reports say the jurors, some of them in tears, were "emotional" over their deadlock, and otherwise fatigued and stressed. PC World says shortly before the jury threw in the towel one juror asked to withdraw, but the judge refused. Whether that was the holdout is unclear.

Novell was hoping to collect a billion dollars in damages, which under antitrust law could have been trebled.

After spending millions on the case since it filed suit in 2004 Novell will now have to go back to square one unless Microsoft, having narrowly skirted a loss, is suddenly willing to settle. The Dow Jones reported Friday night that Novell will seek a retrial.

Novell maintains that in 1994 Microsoft purposely removed extensions from Windows 95 to delay WordPerfect and Novell's Quattro Pro spreadsheet in reaching market, giving its own word processor and Excel spreadsheet an unfair advantage.

Bill Gates testified at the trial that the interfaces were removed because they made the operating system unstable.

However, a Gates e-mail from October of 1994 submitted in evidence read, "We should wait until we have a way to do a high level of integration that will be harder for [the] likes of Notes, WordPerfect to achieve, and which will give Office a real advantage."

With WordPerfect's market share burning through the floor, down 40% in six years, Novell sold the thing to Corel in 1996 at a $1.2 billion loss. It only bought the stuff two years before when WordPerfect was already on a slippery slope. Novell reportedly couldn't figure out whether to back Windows 95 or OS/2.

Several times during its deliberations the jury asked for clarifications, including the meaning the term middleware. PC World says it later asked whether Windows 95 was considered an operating system or middleware.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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