Computing pioneer says Microsoft conspired to 'kill' his company

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Computing pioneer says Microsoft conspired to 'kill' his company - 07/06/05 09:38 PM

SEATTLE -- The inventor of one of the precursors to handheld devices an operating system that enabled computer users to write with a pen instead of a keyboard long suspected Microsoft Corp. of crushing his business.

Now, Jerrold Kaplan says he has the evidence documents that surfaced during a class-action suit filed in Minnesota indicating that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates set out in the early 1990s to discourage other companies from doing business with Kaplan's startup, Go Computer Inc.

An antitrust suit Kaplan filed in San Francisco federal court last week quotes from letters purportedly written by Gates, including one undated note allegedly sent to then Intel CEO Andy Grove, as evidence of Microsoft's "collusive and exclusionary" business practices.

Microsoft first tried to launch a competing operating system, and when that plan failed, it made threats or offered incentives to companies to prevent them from endorsing or investing in Go, the suit claims.

"I guess I've made it clear that we view an Intel investment in Go as an anti-Microsoft move," Gates wrote Grove, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press. "I am asking you not to make any investment in Go."

Intel, which had planned to endorse Go's technology, backed off after Microsoft's lobbying, according to Kaplan's lawsuit. Such "incentives and threats" also discouraged other business partners from adopting Go's operating system, ultimately killing the technology, the lawsuit says.

"This was a corporate mugging," Kaplan said in an interview on Tuesday.

A Microsoft spokeswoman, Stacy Drake, scoffed at the idea that Go was victimized by a Microsoft plot.

"These claims date back nearly 20 years," Drake said. "They were baseless then and they are baseless now."

Once one of Silicon Valley's hottest startups, Go no longer exists as a standalone business. The company was sold to AT&T Co. in 1994, and the rights to its assets were transferred to Lucent Technologies Inc. two years later.

Kaplan, who confirmed facts of the case but would not elaborate on his attorney's advice, was subpoenaed to testify last year in an unrelated class-action suit against Microsoft in Minnesota. It was then that he learned of the documents involving his old company. In April, Kaplan reacquired the rights to sue on Go's behalf.

Formed in 1987, Go Computer developed a tablet computer as well as software that enabled computers to understand handwriting. Decades later, the ability to write with a stylus is a key function of many personal digital assistants as well as of tablet computers, for which Microsoft developed a variation of its Windows XP operating system.

Drake said Go's technology, at the time Kaplan alleges Microsoft conspired to crush his company, was flawed.

"Handwriting had severe limitations," Drake said. "There were a number of companies that attempted pen computing and none of them were successful during that time."
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