MS right to develop Java still a foggy issue

A US federal judge said he needs more facts before he can determine whether Microsoft can distribute independently developed Java products that don't use any technology from Sun Microsystems.

The ruling by the District Court in San Jose, California, was requested by Microsoft to clarify terms of a preliminary injunction issued on November 17, which forced it to make changes to key software products in order to make them compatible with Sun's Java technology.

Microsoft asked the court to clarify whether the injunction allows it to distribute Java products that don't use any technology from Sun.

In his order, Judge Ronald Whyte said the preliminary injunction is not intended to prevent Microsoft from shipping products that don't contain Sun's copyrighted program code. However, at the same time, the order does not attempt to address the question of whether distributing such products would put Microsoft in violation of its Java licensing agreement with Sun.

The question is left unresolved, Whyte wrote, because at the time the November injunction was prepared, neither Sun nor Microsoft had raised the issue of whether Microsoft would be able to distribute independently developed Java products. To determine whether Microsoft can distribute such products would require further fact finding, Whyte said.

Microsoft hasn't said yet why it might want to distribute Java products developed independently of Sun's technology. However, a Microsoft brief submitted to the court last month shows that Microsoft was a long way down the road to developing its own Java products in 1996, the same year it signed its technology licensing agreement with Sun.

In a statement issued before Whyte's order was officially released, Microsoft said it was pleased with the ruling.

Sun shared the sentiment. "We're gratified that the Court has clarified that Microsoft is enjoined from infringing Sun's copyrights. This ruling is a good step forward for us," Sun said in a statement.

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