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THE JUDGE hearing the workstation manufacturer Intergraph's lawsuit against Intel last week said in a pre-trial ruling that Intel had no licence to use Intergraph-patented technology in its Pentium-class chips.

Intergraph got the patents on clipper chip technology that is no longer in production when it bought part of a National Semiconductor subsidiary in 1987. Intel claimed that its 1976 cross-licence deal with National Semiconductor gave it rights to all the company's technologies, but Judge Edwin Nelson said the cross-licensing deal did not apply to subsidiaries "unless and until they consent".

National Semiconductor "had no legal authority to grant a licence, as the patents at issue belonged not to [them] but to a legally distinct corporation, Fairchild", Nelson said. "Intel thus never received a licence from any entity with the power to grant one."

Intel said it would appeal. "We believe this ruling has a very broad and unprecedented implication," said a spokesman, Chuck Mulloy. "It potentially changes the law that applies to thousands of other agreements. We're very concerned about the implications."

Intergraph claims that Intel infringed its patents, used coercive and illegal business practices and violated anti-trust laws. The trial is scheduled to start in February.

PIRATED SOFTWARE accounted for 38 per cent of all new business applications installed worldwide last year, according to a survey released last week by the Business Software Alliance and the Software and Information Industry Association.

The figures showed that 231 million out of 615 million new business software applications were pirated, an increase of 2.5 million over the previous year. Vietnam topped the piracy charts with a rate of 97 per cent, closely followed by China's 95 per cent, and Indonesia's 92 per cent. Although the United States had a piracy rate far lower than average, at 25 per cent, it accounted for the most lost revenue, $2.1bn from an estimated global loss of $11bn.

ALAN SUGAR is considering appealing against the verdict of a Californian jury that last week rejected the claim of Amstrad against the hard drive manufacturer Western Digital. Amstrad filed a suit in 1991 for damages of $141m claiming that Western Digital had sold it defective drives in 1988 and 1989. Amstrad had also sued Seagate, which reached an out-of- court settlement in 1997 with a payment of pounds 75m.

Western Digital Vice-President Michael Cornelius said that the cases were not comparable because Seagate had identified a design fault in its hard drives, while no such flaw existed in Western Digital products.

"Any performance problems Amstrad may have experienced were the result of the design and workmanship of its computers," Cornelius said.

"The case was of a highly technical nature. Unlike in the UK, it was heard in front of a jury," Sugar said. "We feared no jury drawn from everyday people could assimilate the evidence and reach a balanced judgment. The decision is clearly wrong."

If an appeal is granted, it will be heard by three judges.

MICROSOFT OFFICIALLY launched Office 2000 last week, the first update to the software suite for two years. Support for the Web is built in with the ability to save as HTML files from Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other applications. Other features include a streamlined installation procedure that allows features to be installed as needed, and a self-repair facility to cope with any accidentally deleted key files on which the applications depend.

The suite is able to share files with all current versions of Windows NT and Windows 9x software. Prices range from pounds 699 for Microsoft Office 2000 Premium to pounds 439 for Office 2000 Standard and Small Business editions. Upgrade versions start at about pounds 199.

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