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Tying in Antitrust Cases

I covered the Data General antitrust trial in San Francisco federal court. A company that made DG-compatible hardware was complaining that DG would not sell its superior operating system without forcing people, at the same time, to buy its inferior hardware.

In a pre-trial deposition, a customer swore that he had told a DG salesman, "I really only want the OS. What should I do with this hardware?" The salesman replied, "I don't care. Use it as a boat anchor or a door stop." Judge Orrick ruled the evidence inflammatory and inadmissible, but the readers of Computer Systems News (my employer at the time) were sure tickled by it.

Unlike the Microsoft case (being heard before a judge, prosecuted by the government), this was a private antitrust case heard before a jury. Neither judge nor jury had much of a clue, as indicated when DG President Edson DeCastro was on the stand. He was holding up the mother board of a DG minicomputer. The judge asked, "where's the operating system." "Well, your honor, there's no power coming to this board, so the operating system isn't here right now." "Where would it be," Orrick insisted, forcing DeCastro to point out the onboard memory chips.

The jury found for the plaintiffs. In an extremely rare move, Judge Orrick overturned the jury verdict and found for DG. I don't know what ever happened to the case. It probably became about as irrelevant as minicomputers.

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