Sun Microsystems v. Microsoft
(Java Licensing Suit)
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Sun Microsystems, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose, Case Number 97-CV-20884.

Microsoft Corporation v. Sun Microsystems, Inc., U.S. Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit, Case Number 98-_____.

Nature of the Case. Suit by Java Technology developer and licensor Sun Microsystems against software giant Microsoft, alleging that Microsoft has violated its Java licensing agreement with Sun.

This page was last updated on January 30, 2000.

Plaintiff.  Sun Microsystems, 901 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto, California, 94303. Attorney: Lloyd Day, Day Casebeer, San Francisco, 408-255-3255.

Defendant.  Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA, 98052-6399. Attorneys.

Facts.  Sun Microsystems makes network computing systems which use a Unix operating system. Sun also is the developer and licensor of Java Technology, a standardized application programming environment that is designed to allow software developers to create programming code that can run across different platforms. One set of uses is for applets that improve the appearance and interactive quality of web pages. On March 11, 1996, Sun and Microsoft entered into a licensing agreement which allows Microsoft to use, modify and adapt Java Technology. Microsoft proceeded to use Java Technology in developing MS Internet Explorer 4.0, and other software products. Sun alleges that Microsoft has refused to adhere to Sun's most recent set of Java specifications and Java API, and that this constitutes an attempt to fragment the standardized application environment, and break with cross platform compatibility. Sun filed suit on October 8, 1997, seeking both injunction relief, and $35 million in monetary damages. Microsoft has counter-claimed against Sun.

Issues.  The suit is based on breach of contract, the Federal Trademark Act (Lanham Act) 15 USC § 1051 et. seq., and a shotgun volley of other contract and tort causes or action. At issue is whether Microsoft has violated its Java license agreement with Sun Microsystems, and whether Microsoft has otherwise engaged in breach of contract, false advertising, trademark infringement, unfair competition, or interference with economic advantage. Sun alleged in its Motion for Preliminary Injunction that the fundamental issue is: "Will MS be permitted to use Sun's Java Compatible Logo to promote and distribute its Internet Explorer 4.0 and related products even though its products fail to pass Sun's compatibility tests suite, and therefore fail to satisfy the conditions for use of Sun's trademark."

Microsoft has raised several issues in its counterclaim, including whether Sun breached the agreement for allegedly withholding from Microsoft a public set of test suites or for failing to treat Microsoft on an equal footing with other licensees, and whether Sun has engaged in intentional interference with prospective advantage and unfair business practices for its alleged false statements about the compatibility and desirability of Microsoft’s products and Microsoft’s rights under the agreement.

Another set of issues is, if Microsoft has violated license agreement, what relief is Sun entitled to?   The guts of Sun's requests are for injunction relief, preventing use of the logo, and withdrawal of products from the market.

However, the bigger issue is not a legal one. It is the extent to which Sun will be able to control the  Java platform, and keep it from fragmenting.


1.  District Court Injunction, March 24, 1998. The District Court issued a Preliminary Injunction against Microsoft on March 24, 1998 which bars Microsoft from using the Java Compatibility Logo. This preliminary order is based upon the Court's determination that Microsoft likely breached the Agreement placing the Java Compatibility Logo on software products that failed Sun's compatibility tests, and its finding that the Agreement allows injunction relief. See, Preliminary Injunction.

2.  District Court Injunction, November 17, 1998. The District Court issued a broader Preliminary Injunction on November 17, 1998, which requires Microsoft to modify all its software products that ship with Java technologies to pass Sun's Java compatibility test suite. The order affects MS Internet Explorer 4.0, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, and the development tool, Visual J++ 6.0.  The injunction gives Microsoft 90 days to come into compliance. See, Preliminary Injunction.

3.  Court of Appeals Opinion Vacating Injunction, August 23, 1999. Microsoft appealed the November 17, 1998 injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit set aside the injunction on August 23, 1999. See, Opinion.

4.  District Court Order Reinstating Injunction, January 24, 2000. Sun moved to reinstate the injunction of November 17, 1998. Judge Whyte did so on January 24, 2000. See, Order Reinstating Preliminary Injunction. (Link to Sun web site.)

Status.  Microsoft is enjoined from shipping software products with Java technologies that do not pass Sun's Java compatibility test suite.

Chronology with Links to Pleadings and Related Resources

Trademark Licensing and Distribution Agreement (TLDA).  The full text of the agreement in dispute is a page in this website, with internal links to some key sections.

Sun Microsystems Information.

Microsoft Information.

Tech Law Journal Stories.