By Rachel Chalmers
Sun Microsystems Inc has asked a federal judge to prevent Microsoft Corp from distributing a compiler written to run Sun’s own Java technology. The Mountain View, California-based Sun claims that Microsoft is using the compiler in a bid to sidestep last year’s court order, issued by the same judge. On November 17 1998, Judge Ronald Whyte of the US District Court in San Jose ruled that Sun was likely to win a case in which it accused Microsoft of unfair competition over Java (CI No 3,541). Whyte ordered Microsoft to change all its new products to meet Sun’s compatibility tests within 90 days. Microsoft was also told to turn off the defaults in its development tools which called Windows-specific functions, and to warn developers with a dialog box when those functions were about to be called. The idea was to let developers themselves choose whether to develop Java applications for cross-platform use or for Windows only. On December 17, Microsoft appealed Whyte’s ruling, saying the judge had misinterpreted a contract dispute as a copyright issue. The litigants came before Judge Whyte again on Friday. At issue was a Java compiler, written by Microsoft, which Microsoft says contains none of Sun’s intellectual property – meaning none of Sun’s program code. As Microsoft attorney Karl Quackenbush put it: A product which does not include Sun’s copyrighted code cannot infringe on Sun’s copyright. He told the judge that a ban on writing such software would amount to prior restraint of Microsoft’s First Amendment rights. What Sun wants is for Microsoft, and presumably all its licensees, to keep new products out of the market and to keep innovation restrained with its so- called compatibility tests.
Flooding the market
Those tests are, of course, Sun’s best weapon in its fight to keep Java truly cross-platform. For their part, Sun’s lawyers say that the specifications for writing a compiler are every bit as copyrighted as Sun’s own code. Therefore Microsoft’s compiler is under license and like any other Java-derived technology, should pass compatibility tests and not call Windows-specific functions without notifying the developer. Sun attorney Rusty Day said it was Microsoft that asked to have the relevant section included in the original contract between the two companies. He exclaimed: The irony here is that it was Microsoft that negotiated for and obtained the right to distribute independent work – subject to Sun’s upgrade schedule, compatibility tests and branding! Day explained that because Whyte’s November order did not apply to already-shipping products, Microsoft’s OEMs are shipping 7 million non-compliant Java products per month. That’s what Sun means when we say Microsoft is flooding the market and seeking to wrest control of this technology away from Sun, he told the judge. Why a compiler? Because developers can use it to write programs to Microsoft’s non-compliant runtime. And they want to do that free from the requirements of your order, free from strictures. Quackenbush sniffed, Sun is really asking for a new injunction. There’s simply no basis for finding that future independently developed Java compilers would harm the market – in fact there’s evidence to suggest it would do a lot of good. Judge Whyte admitted that the compiler issue was not something he had foreseen. When I framed this court order, the idea of an independently developed compiler was not something that entered my mind at all, he told the litigants. The judge offered no ruling today, in part because what he really wants is for the quarrelling companies to settle out of court. I realize there’s a lot of money involved and a lot of egos involved, he said, but it really is sad that these two companies can’t sit down and work out a solution that would be in their best interests and in the public’s best interests.