By Peter Branton
When Microsoft announced last year that it was going to push into the security market, John Thompson, CEO of security giant Symantec, declared that he wasn’t interested in “going whining” to regulatory authorities about its actions: he would prefer to see his company “whip them” in the marketplace.
|~|symantec-v-MSbody.jpg|~|Thompson would rather fight Microsoft in the marketplace than in court. |~|When Microsoft announced last year that it was going to push into the security market, John Thompson, CEO of security giant Symantec, declared that he wasn’t interested in “going whining” to regulatory authorities about its actions: he would prefer to see his company “whip them” in the marketplace.
However, if it hasn’t exactly gone whining to regulatory authorities, Symantec has still gone down the legal route: this month saw Symantec launch legal action against Microsoft, seeking an injunction that will block it from selling certain products that Symantec claims contain some of its intellectual property.
The dispute revolves around a product Symantec acquired as part of its takeover of Veritas, Volume Manager, which allows operating systems to store and manage large amounts of data.
Microsoft had licensed a cut-down version of the software, but Symantec contends that its forthcoming Vista operating system will violate the terms of that licence. Microsoft, of course, has countered that the complaint is without merit.
The lawsuit is the clearest sign yet of the heightened competition between the two firms. While such suits are not uncommon in the IT industry, it is the first time that Microsoft and Symantec have been on different sides in a legal case: they have previously been two of the most active companies in taking legal action against software piracy and so are more used to teaming up than taking each other on.
While such lawsuits always make for good news stories, they don’t always mean the end of any working relationship.
Microsoft in particular is no stranger to the inside of a law court: it has been in litigation with numerous vendors and with different governments for large chunks of its existence.
Many companies that have bitterly opposed it in the courtroom have later gone on to embrace it in the market; it has been able to settle out of court with many others.
Certainly, both companies were keen to point out last week that they are still working together in a number of areas and that both had attempted to resolve the issues between them without going to court.
In matters of intellectual property law, an individual or firm can also often feel compelled to act: if you do not defend such intellectual property from one perceived attack, it may count against you in later cases.
So, one lawsuit does not a long-standing relationship break.
On the other hand, taking legal action against another party is never generally considered to be a promising sign about the relationship.
And with Vista expected to contain a number of enhanced security features, Symantec won’t be too concerned if this lawsuit leads to a delay for the product.
Round one has sounded, even if both parties are promising to obey the rules and fight like gentlemen.