Sun Microsystems has suffered a set back in its long running battle with Microsoft over use of its Java programming language.
On Monday a three judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals set aside a temporary injunction imposed on Microsoft in November 1998 and threw the case back to the US District Court.
Presiding District Court judge Ronald Whyte must now explain why the injunction - a drastic move generally used in copyright infringement cases - was imposed in what Microsoft contested was a 'breach of contract' case.
A further injunction, relating to Sun's claim of unfair competition, was also sent back for reconsideration because Californian law states it should only have been imposed based on Microsoft's future conduct, not on past conduct as was contested by Sun.
The injunction was granted last November, barring Microsoft from distributing its Java development kit, Windows 98 operating system and Internet Explorer browser, unless they conformed to Sun's Java standards.
Microsoft today welcomed the appeals court's decision.
"The court ruling reaffirms Microsoft's belief that this is essentially a contract agreement rather than an issue about copyright. Obviously we feel it is a very positive step for Microsoft in the case," a Microsoft spokesman told VNU Newswire.
Sun responded defiantly, highlighting the appeals court's statement that it agreed with Sun on some key points.
"Significant evidence supports the court's holding that Sun is likely to prevail on its interpretation of the language of the agreement and to prove that Microsoft's conduct violated it," the appeals court noted.
"Based on Judge Whyte's prior rulings, we are confident that he will explain why Microsoft's violations infringe Sun's copyrights," Sun said in a statement.
"Today the Court of Appeals asked Judge Whyte to determine whether Microsoft is likely to persist in its acts of unfair competition. We think that the record of Microsoft's actions speaks for itself in this regard," Sun's statement added.
Microsoft licensed Java in 1996 for $3.75 million a year, but in late 1997 Sun expressed concern that Microsoft was distributing a "polluted" version of Java that was incompatible with Sun's standards.
After winning a preliminary injunction barring Microsoft from using the "Java Compatible" logo on its products in March 1998, Sun expanded its complaint to include copyright infringment. The expanded complaint resulted in the injunction awarded in November 1998.
Sun contests that Microsoft added unauthorised keywords and complier directives, modified its compiler to support Microsoft's unauthorised extensions and failed to implement the standard Java native method interface (JNI) in Microsoft products.
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