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Deadlocked Microsoft case dismissed

A US judge has dismissed a billion-dollar federal antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

Utah company Novell claimed Microsoft duped it into developing the once-popular WordPerfect writing programme for Windows 95 only to pull the plug so Microsoft could gain market share with its own product. Novell says it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a 1.2 billion dollar loss.

The trial has been unfolding in Salt Lake City for two months. Jurors got the case on Wednesday morning but by Friday told the judge they were "hopelessly deadlocked".

They had expressed confusion to the judge about the complicated case throughout deliberations, even bringing one question to the court that could not be answered. The judge told jurors to simply disregard the question. And earlier on Friday, the judge denied a request from one juror to be removed from the case.

Microsoft lawyers argued that Novell's loss of market share was its own doing because the company did not develop a compatible WordPerfect programme until long after the roll-out of Windows 95.

WordPerfect once had nearly 50% of the market for word processing, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10% as Microsoft's own Office programmes took hold.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates testified last month that he had no idea his decision to drop a tool for outside developers would sidetrack Novell. Mr Gates said he was acting to protect Windows 95 and future versions from crashing. Novell could have worked around the problem but failed to react quickly, he said.

Novell has argued that Mr Gates ordered Microsoft engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 word processing application because he feared it was too good.

Novell's lawsuit is the last major private antitrust case to follow the settlement of a federal antitrust enforcement action against Microsoft more than eight years ago. The trial began in October in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Novell is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Attachmate Group, the result of a merger that was completed earlier this year.

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