An appeals court has reversed a lower court's ruling that Microsoft must distribute a version of Java endorsed by Sun Microsystems. But the appeals court also affirmed a ruling saying Microsoft violated Sun's copyright by distributing its own version of the Java programming language with its products.
Both companies claimed victory after the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced its decision Thursday, another step in Sun's private antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.
U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Motz erred in his Dec. 23 ruling requiring Microsoft to carry the Sun-compatible version of Java with its operating systems and browser products because there was no proof that Sun would suffer "immediate irreparable harm" without the order, appeals court Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote.
Sun has argued that Microsoft, by distributing a version of Java incompatible with the one developed by Sun, has attempted to create confusion over Java and drive programmers to its own .Net Internet-enabled programming platform. Microsoft will use its monopoly in the PC operating system to convert programmers to .Net in the middleware market, Sun lawyers have argued.
But Niemeyer questioned the connection between the middleware and PC operating systems markets. "The mandatory preliminary injunction aimed at prevention 'distortion' in the new emerging market for middleware has not been linked in fact or by any established legal theory to the final relief that Sun seeks in its claim that Microsoft has illegally maintained its monopoly in the market for worldwide licensing of Intel-compatible PC operating systems," Niemeyer wrote.
The appeals court did uphold Motz's order prohibiting Microsoft from distributing any version of Java other than one allowed by Sun in a 2001 license given to Microsoft.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler called Thursday's ruling a "positive step," saying the must-carry Java order was the key issue that needed to be resolved by the appeals court. As for the copyright infringement order, Microsoft already complied in February replacing the service pack Windows XP SP1 with a new service pack, XP SP1a, which excludes Microsoft's Java virtual machine.
Lee Patch, Sun's vice president for legal affairs, called the appeals court ruling on the copyright infringement issue "an important victory for the Java community."
"This decision confirms that Microsoft violated our prior settlement agreement, and that it did so in a way that continued to fragment the Java platform on PCs," Patch said in a statement. "While we are disappointed with the delay that results from the court's determination to vacate and remand the must-carry preliminary injunction, the court accepted the district court's determination that Microsoft engaged in anticompetitive acts."