Novell has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft accusing it of unfairly eliminating competition in the office software market.

Novell announced its intention to sue Microsoft last week when, ironically, it settled existing anti-trust suits with the software giant for $536 million. Those lawsuits concerned the negative impact Microsoft's actions had had on its NetWare product.

The new lawsuit however accuses Microsoft of ruining the market for WordPerfect and Quattro Pro - word processing and spreadsheet alternatives to Microsoft's Word and Excel programs respectively. Novell and Microsoft engaged in "extensive" discussions in an attempt to resolve the WordPerfect claims without a lawsuit, according to a Novell press release.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and accuses Microsoft of withholding critical technical information about Windows from Novell, thus impairing Novell's ability to develop new versions of WordPerfect and other Novell office productivity applications. The complaint also alleges that Microsoft integrated technologies into Windows designed to exclude WordPerfect and other Novell applications.

In addition, Novell asserts that Microsoft used its monopoly power to prevent hardware partners from offering WordPerfect and other applications to customers. The lawsuit is based in part on evidence uncovered in the US government's anti-trust case against Microsoft.

Although Novell no longer owns WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, the claims are "important and hold considerable value for Novell," said Novell's lead lawyer, Joseph A. LaSala Jr.

Novell merged with WordPerfect Corp. in June 1994. In a related transaction at the same time, Novell purchased Quattro Pro, a spreadsheet product, from Borland International. The combined value of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro at the time of the transactions was over $1 billion, according to Novell. WordPerfect and Quattro Pro were then sold to Corel Corporation in March 1996 for approximately $170 million.

WordPerfect claimed almost 50 percent of the word processing market in 1990, but that share fell to less than 10 percent by the time Novell sold WordPerfect and related applications, according to Novell.

Microsoft disputed Novell's claims that it was responsible for WordPerfect's declining market share. WordPerfect declined to develop products for early versions of Windows, and WordPerfect's market share had already begun to decline before Novell acquired the application, Microsoft noted in a press release.

"Through this lawsuit, Novell seeks to blame Microsoft for its own mismanagement and poor business decisions," Microsoft said. "The record is clear that bad decisions and business mistakes are the reasons WordPerfect fell out of favour with consumers. It’s also unfortunate, and surprising, that Novell has just now chosen to litigate over a business it owned for a very short time and that it sold more than eight years ago."