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Microsoft was hit with a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block the sale of its Windows Vista operating system, just days after the US Supreme Court had handed down a landmark decision on the use of such injunctions.
Symantec, the leading maker of security software and a fierce Microsoft rival, accused the world’s biggest software company of “deliberately and surreptitiously” misappropriating its technology for part of the operating system, which is due to be included in new computers from early next year.
Technical delays to the operating system have already left it years behind Microsoft’s original schedule. Some influential technology analysts argue that it will not be ready to ship by January.
Microsoft “ultimately built portions of its next-generation operating system on [a] house of cards,” according to the Symantec complaint, filed on Thursday in a federal court in Seattle.
In a statement, Microsoft called the accusations “unfounded”. It was confident “these claims will be shown to be without merit.”
The lawsuit comes in the same week that the Supreme Court confirmed the importance that injunctions play in protecting the rights of patent holders, though it said that courts should use discretion in granting them rather than handing them down automatically. The issue has become controversial in the months since NTP, a small technology company, nearly forced the closure in the US of the popular BlackBerry email server over an intellectual property dispute involving a small part of the technology.
Symantec’s claim concerns volume management software, which is used to manage the storage of large amounts of data on discs. The software was developed by Veritas, a company bought by Symantec last year, and was earlier covered by a licensing agreement with Microsoft that dates back to 1996.
According to the complaint, Microsoft has rewritten the volume management software for its next version of Windows in ways that were not allowed under the licence between the two companies. “They used it to develop a rival product,” said a spokesperson for Symantec.
Microsoft defended its adaptation of the technology, saying that it had bought out Veritas’ rights to the software two years ago and so was now free to develop it as it wanted. The Symantec spokesperson said that the agreement did not give Microsoft full rights, and that “they did not own it lock, stock and barrel.”
The lawsuit marks a flashpoint between two companies which have become fierce rivals in the run-up to the release of Vista. Symantec’s shares have slumped over the past year as Wall Street has worried about competition from Microsoft’s own security software, included in Vista. However, Symantec said that the licensing dispute pre-dated its acquisition with Veritas and had not been prompted by the rivalry between the two companies.