A US federal judge has ruled that Microsoft engaged in "wanton, reckless" and deceptive business practices against a small US software maker and has ordered the software giant to pay $1m in punitive damages.
Connecticut-based Bristol Technology alleged that Microsoft injured it and the software industry through predatory manipulation of the access to Windows programming interfaces, according to the suit filed in August 1998. A jury last year sided with Microsoft on the majority of claims, but found it had violated state fair trade statutes.
The jury awarded Bristol only $1 in punitive damages, but Federal District Judge Janet Hall's ruling this week marked a dramatic turn in the case as she ordered Microsoft to pay $1m. According to Judge Hall, Microsoft's actions constituted affirmative acts of misconduct.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said: "We will likely be appealing [against] this ruling." He said that Judge Hall's decision contradicts that of the previous jury, and that there are a number of issues the company will raise on appeal.
In her 103-page ruling, Judge Hall wrote: "Stripped from the veil of Microsoft's protestations that it merely engaged in highly competitive behaviour, Microsoft's deceptive statements are, at their core, like a classic bait-and-switch tactic perpetrated on the targeted ISVs [independent software vendors], developers and Unix users [which] Microsoft sought to convert to Windows."
Judge Hall also claimed that Microsoft executives had not testified truthfully. The ruling quoted an internal Microsoft email in which chairman Bill Gates allegedly used harsh language to describe the likely effect of his company's conduct on Bristol. Additionally, the judge slammed the software giant for unfair practices involving its Windows Interface Source Environment licensing programme.
In reaction to the opinion, Keith Blackwell, chief executive at Bristol, said the court's opinion is a victory for his company but, more importantly, for consumers.
Bristol designs software that helps developers rewrite Windows programs for Unix software.
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