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Symantec Suit Against Microsoft Symbolizes Security Shift

It hasn't taken Microsoft long to make powerful enemies in the IT security market, where the company hopes to play a much larger role when it delivers Windows Vista and Longhorn Server. Several years of negotiations over Microsoft's right to use Symantec's Volume Manager software in Windows boiled over last week when Symantec filed a lawsuit that threatens to keep Microsoft from further developing and distributing its much-anticipated and often-delayed Vista and Longhorn.

Although the suit centers on a long-standing storage management software contract dispute between Microsoft and Veritas, which Symantec acquired last year, there's no question that additional delays in Vista's debut would benefit Symantec's security business, or at least buy the company time to further diversify its offerings. While the companies claim to continue to be technology partners, Microsoft's designs on the security market are clear. "If you look at our investment in the next version of Windows, security would jump out as the thing we've spent the most time on," Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said in February at the RSA Security conference. "Microsoft has a big responsibility here."

Symantec says it turned to the courts as a last resort when the two companies reached an impasse. "We've been in discussions with Microsoft for well over a year," says Michael Schallop, director of legal affairs at Symantec. "Only recently have both sides seen that we aren't able to reach an agreement." Ultimately, there were differences in the legal interpretation of a 1996 agreement between Microsoft and Veritas. Schallop acknowledges that going through the courts isn't necessarily the most efficient way to resolve the dispute, but says Symantec saw no other way at this time. He also noted that the two companies could return to the negotiation table to avoid a lengthy trial.

Symantec isn't looking for an all-out war against Microsoft and plans to maintain partnerships in areas not related to the case. "Our intent is not to delay the launch of Vista but, rather to protect our intellectual property," Schallop says. "The idea was not to give Microsoft our IP so that it could be used against us."

Still, the appeal to delay Vista is there in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington State. The suit seeks a jury trial against Microsoft on eight different alleged offenses, including trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, copyright infringement, and patent infringement.

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