HEADLINE: Apple Wins Round in Microsoft Suit
BYLINE: By ANDREW POLLACK, Special to the New York Times
DATELINE: SAN FRANCISCO, March 17
Apple Computer Inc. today apparently won the first round of its closely watched copyright infringement lawsuit against the Microsoft Corporation, as a Federal judge tentatively rejected Microsoft's contention that it had a license allowing it to use Apple's technology.
The case will now move to the larger question of whether the Microsoft program, as well as a program sold by the Hewlett-Packard Company, infringe Apple's copyright.
Judge William Schwarzer of the Federal District Court in San Francisco has not yet issued his written opinion. But in a tentative opinion he sent to the parties last week and in statements he made at a hearing today, he indicated he had decided that a 1985 agreement Microsoft had with Apple did not cover Microsoft's Windows 2.03 program, which Apple claims infringes the copyrights for the screen display used on its Macintosh computers.
Reactions of the Companies
Although the main issue of the case is still to be decided, the partial decision was hailed by Apple.
''Microsoft's major defense has been shot down,'' said Chris R. Ottenweller, an attorney with Brown & Bain, which is representing Apple.
William Pope, senior corporate attorney for Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., declined to comment until the judge issues his written opinion. The year-old lawsuit has attracted wide attention because many companies, including the International Business Machines Corporation, are turning to the same kind of approach Apple used in its Macintosh to make computers easy to use.
Legal Implications of Case
The case is expected to be important in setting legal guidelines for exactly how much one program can resemble another in its appearance and operating procedures without infringing. The software industry is now full of such ''look and feel'' cases, including one filed by spreadsheet leader Lotus Development Corporation against two smaller software companies.
If Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., succeeds in this case, it might be able to maintain what it believes is a key advantage for it over other companies.
The approach, called a graphical user interface, allows users to accomplish tasks by pointing at symbols with an arrow on the screen.
For instance, disposing of a file is accomplished by directing a picture of a file folder to a picture of a trash can. Users can also make choices from menus that pop down on the screen and can display several documents on the screen at once, each in its own window. These windows can overlap one another like papers on a desktop.
A Shock to the Industry
Apple's lawsuit, filed against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard in March 1988, shocked the industry because Apple did not originate the idea of the graphical user interface.
Moreover, Microsoft had been a major contributor to the success of the Macintosh by becoming the first major software company to write programs for the machine.
Microsoft asserts that a 1985 agreement between it and Apple covering an earlier version of its Windows program, also allowed for use of the technology in certain future products.
Apple argued that Windows 2.03, which provides a graphical user interface for some I.B.M. personal computers and compatibles, is not covered by the agreement.
Settlement Talks Confirmed
Judge Schwarzer will next rule on the thorny copyright questions involving both Windows and Hewlett-Packard's New Wave, a program that incorporates Windows 2.03.
A hearing to discuss the schedule for that part of the case has been set for April 14.
Attorneys for both Apple and Microsoft said there had been discussions of a settlement.
''The parties have had settlement discussions over several months, but
at this point in time we don't have a settlement,'' Mr. Pope of Microsoft