June 19, 2002 12:35 PM PDT

Burst.com accuses Microsoft of theft

In a new suit that echoes earlier charges from Netscape, Sun Microsystems and others, Microsoft is accused of bullying companies out of using Burst.com products and stealing the streaming company's technology.

The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims Microsoft's upcoming video encoding and decoding product, Corona, includes Burst's patented video-delivery technology. The company also alleges that Microsoft pressured partners and customers, including Intel and RealNetworks, into dropping support for Burst technology. And it claims Microsoft intentionally caused Burst's products to be incompatible with Windows software.

In the complaint, lawyers for Burst said Microsoft's actions have caused the company "serious and continuing damage and have deprived consumers of valuable new technologies that threatened to disturb Microsoft's strategy to maintain and expand its operating system's dominance to the delivery of high-quality video over the Internet."

Burst said Microsoft gained access to its streaming technology while the two companies were trying to negotiate a deal for the rights to it. Burst said those talks fell through and instead Microsoft took the technology and put it in Corona.

A Microsoft spokesman said company executives could not comment on the suit's specifics because they had just received it, but he defended the technology in Corona.

"Microsoft has innovated with digital media technologies in Windows for more than 10 years," Jon Murchinson said in a statement. "The fast streaming technology coming in Windows Media Corona is an example of work by Microsoft to deliver an even more compelling streaming experience to users."

Many companies have made similar claims against the software giant over the years. Sun accused Microsoft of incorporating a corrupted version of Java into its products in an attempt to stifle the technology's popularity. RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser told a Senate panel that Microsoft "broke" his company's media player in an attempt to convince people to switch to its player.

And Netscape, now a division of AOL Time Warner, sparked the federal antitrust case by complaining that the company, among other things, thwarted delivery of its browser. At the trial, executives from companies including Intel and Apple Computer accused Microsoft of exerting undue pressure on partners and competitors to maintain its dominance--actions Microsoft defended as tough, but not illegal, business tactics.

Despite a long list of court actions against it, the company has had to make relatively few changes to its business practices. The antitrust trial, now entering its fifth year, is ongoing. On Wednesday, Microsoft and representatives of the nine states still suing the company for anticompetitive behavior were in court for closing arguments in the latest round in the case.

 

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