MS trial hell will never end: Bristol verdict turns to dust

Screwing Unix back on the charge sheet?

Microsoft's sole antitrust trial 'victory' (if you don't count the class action dismissals) has crumbled to dust. US district court judge Janet Hall, who earlier this year awarded Bristol Technology $1 million, has now whacked Microsoft with $3.7 million in costs, and opened the way for a new trial.

Bristol CEO Keith Blackwell said it was a good way to start a Monday, but we think he meant getting $3.7 million, rather than kicking off another antitrust suit. But he still might.

Bristol's previous antitrust suit against Microsoft was basically a legal screw-up. The jury was given a form to help them disentangle the issues, but perversely (as we'd say in UK legal parlance) checked the first box to the effect that Bristol hadn't successfully defined a relevant market. No relevant market, no suit, basically (see links below for more detail). Bristol got a derisory $1 for nailing Microsoft on one minor count, and Judge Hall seems to have been trying to make amends ever since.

She first upped the damages to $1 million, and is sending out some pretty strong signals by awarding Bristol costs, albeit not the $6 million Bristol asked for.

Essentially, the evidence presented by Bristol in the trial consisted of the smoking pistols, withholding of air supply and general despicable conduct we've all become familiar with in the past few years. Because of the jury's decision that there wasn't a defined market to harm, none of this evidence was valid.

But at least morally (and despite crowing over the 'victory') Microsoft looked guilty as hell. And if Bristol decides to come round for another go, we should be able to see what effect the learning process has had on both sides. Frankly, we have to tell you we thought the Bristol trial transcripts spoke of a pretty ramshackle, second eleven kind of approach by all parties, and if it's back on, it'd be a help if they got their acts together and made it better reading. ®

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