Business and the courts

Bill Gates's giant Microsoft Corporation is seeing legal action on a whole number of fronts the moment in the US. his week its took action of its won when it launched a writ against Taskmaster Computing Ltd and an individual, Roy Pique, of White Cliffs Business Park, Whitfield in Dover, alleging copyright infringement.

Microsoft's writ says that on 27 October last year Taskmaster sold five products to a company called Lead Glass (Kent) which bore trademarks including Microsoft, Windows and Powerpoint, but which were not manufactured by Microsoft.

The giant software company has retained London-based law firm Linklaters to represent it and lodged a writ on Tuesday in the High Courts demanding an injunction against Taskmaster and damages, amongst other things.

Across the pond, Microsoft is itself facing an anti-trust case brought by the US Justice Department, which claims it is violating a 1995 consent decree by making personal computer manufacturers "Bundle" its Internet browser with its Windows 95 product.

Nine US Sates have launched their own probes into whether the company is using anti-competitive practices. All of which is being contested by Microsoft.

I've been waiting to write a story headlined "Battle of the Urinals" for a long time. Some pungent litigation is due to reach court this spring between Greenhill Services, of Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, and Washroom International, of Cliftonville, Kent.

Greenhill has an exclusive licence to all rights in a waterless urinal system called "WhiffAway", which industry analysts have tipped as a big future seller.

Last year Greenhill made an agreement with Washroom making the latter the exclusive distributor of the system in the UK and Europe for 10 years. Under the deal Washroom undertook not to sell rival systems. Now Greenhill is claiming that Washroom is marketing a rival system, IQ Waterfree Urinal System. Greenhill wants damages and an injunction against Washroom.

John Rhodes of Campbell Hooper is representing Greenhill and won an interlocutory order from Mr Justice Popplewell stopping Washroom from breaching the conditions of the contract.

This decision went to the Court of Appeal, where Sir John Balcombe let the earlier injunction stand, saying that certain claims by Washroom had already been "pooh poohed" by a High Court judge.

How refreshing to see a senior member of the Judiciary expressing himself in such earthy terms.

Ensor Byfield, a Southampton firm, are representing Washroom. Oh, and if you want to see either of the rival urinals in action, I'm advised, go to any Granada motorway service station.

Richard Branson was being cross-examined yesterday in the libel case between the Virgin boss and Guy Snowden, founder and head of GTech, the American lottery contractor.

Throughout the case, which kicked off at the High Court this week, Mr Branson has been accompanied by his father, Ted Branson.

Mr Branson senior, 79, is a distinguished former barrister himself, and ended his career as a Stipendiary Magistrate. His success at the Bar enabled him to send young Richard to Stowe, the public school. Ted lives with his wife Eve Branson on the south coast, near Chichester. Ted's other claim to fame is that he is a former "desert rat"; He fought with the British Army in North Africa during the second world war, and was decorated. Richard Branson is being represented by George Carman QC, while Mr Snowden has Richard Ferguson QC . The case, which is expected to last four weeks, is being heard by Mr Justice Moreland, who heard the Jamie Bulger case.

A judgement is expected to be delivered next Wednesday over the Alan Clark case, in which the former Government minister is seeking an injunction and damages against the London Evening Standard over the newspaper's spoof "Alan Clark Diary".

Geoffrey Hobbs QC, on Mr Clark's behalf, accused the paper of "false attribution of authorship". Meanwhile, this week the Evening Standard continued to publish the spoof diary pending the judgment.

Word reaches me of an intruiging writ lodged recently by the Ministry of Sound, the south-east London nightclub headed by Jamie Palumbo, against a Ms Cosgrave. Solicitors acting on behalf of the Elephant & Castle rave venue were reluctant to discuss the case, except to say that "Ms Cosgrave was offered the opportunity to answer the allegations through her solicitors prior to the commencement of proceedings, but [the Ministry] regarded the responses she provided as unsatisfactory." What allegations? I'll bring you the writ in full next week.

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