Microsoft, marked with the scarlet letter “A” (for “antitrust”), is still paying for yesterday’s sins. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a private antitrust suit brought on by Novell against Microsoft for crushing WordPerfect can proceed. Microsoft had tried to block the suit on the grounds that the statute of limitations had run out (the alleged crushing of Novell having occurred a dozen years ago) and that Novell did not compete in the operating system market (WordPerfect is a word processor). No dice, says the Supreme Court.
It is hard to remember now, but at one point (in 1990) WordPerfect had nearly 50 percent of the word processor market. That dwindled to under 10 percent six years later because of, um, incompatibilities with Windows. Bloomberg reports:
Novell says the value of WordPerfect fell from $1.2 billion in May 1994 to $170 million in 1996, when the company sold the program to Corel Corp. Novell, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is seeking three times its losses.
So that is potentially $3 billion, on top of the $5 billion Microsoft has already paid out to everyone from Sun Microsystems to AOL (Time Warner). And that includes $536 million it has already paid to Novell for partially settling antitrust claims over its Netware operating system. Plus, the European Union has withdrawn a total of $2.6 billion (€1.68 billion) in fines over the years from the Microsoft ATM. It sure is expensive being a monopoly.
One person who must be feeling good about all this is former Novell CEO Eric Schmidt, who as Google’s current CEO still likes to point out Microsoft’s scarlet “A” every chance he gets.