A federal appeals court yesterday kept alive a 2004 antitrust lawsuit in which Novell accused Microsoft of anti-competitive tactics dating back to the early 1990s.

Here’s the twist: The ruling comes one week after the acquisition of Novell by Attachmate Group, the Houston-based software company with roots in Seattle. So it appears that Attachmate has already gotten a little more than it might have expected from the Novell acquisition. But its plans for this inheritance aren’t clear.

“As Novell is now a part of The Attachmate Group and we are a privately-held company, we do not comment publicly on legal matters,” an Attachmate spokeswoman said via email in response to our inquiry this morning.

Here’s a copy of the Tuesday ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals: PDF, 27 pages

Said a Microsoft spokesman via email: “We are disappointed with the Fourth’s Circuit’s decision to reverse in part the district court’s summary judgment ruling which dismissed these very old claims, although we are pleased that at this point only one part of one of Novell’s claims remains. We still are convinced that this lingering claim does not have any merit, and we are considering our next steps.”

Separately, a consortium led by Microsoft had sought to buy Novell’s patents in conjunction with the company’s acquisition by Attachmate, but the Justice Department effectively limited the scope of that patent deal to a licensing transaction.

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