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IBM settles $400 million to Compuware

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Hardware
Legal

In the end, a jury of eight won't deliberate the trade secrets case between Compuware Corp. and IBM Corp.

But jurors in the 3-year-old case, which culminated in a $400-million settlement late Monday night, said Tuesday that the weight of evidence so far made them side with Compuware.

IBM had yet to present.

A legal expert said that isn't a surprise five weeks into the trial, because IBM hadn't started presenting its case.

Still, jurors said, Compuware's testimony and evidence proved compelling amid dense technical testimony and evidence in the software trial.
Presenting highly technical evidence to jurors -- as opposed to having a bench trial -- can be risky, said Christopher Peters, associate law professor at Wayne State University Law School, so the evidence pointing to what is right and wrong needs to be compelling.

In this case, U.S. District Judge George Steeh told jurors that their presence in the court helped the two sides reach a settlement.

"The differences were great. The only impetus to bring these folks together was the fact that the ax was going to fall on somebody's head and it was getting close," he told the jury Tuesday morning. "And you're the ax."

The jurors were asked to decide whether IBM had coerced former Compuware employees to share information about Compuware products to develop competing software and try to price Compuware out of the market.

Beyond what the products do -- the software in question manages data and diagnoses glitches in IBM mainframes -- jurors heard technical jargon, such as the computer language that makes the building blocks of the software.

"The first week, I was lost," said Anthony Stella, 39, of Chesterfield Township. But it got easier, he said.

Edwina Garnett, 47, of Detroit said the attorneys' efforts to repeat information helped her understand the case. "After hearing it over and over, you see how things kind of tie in," she said.

Still, a highly technical case offering complicated data to a jury can be a risk, said Albert Scherr, a professor at the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H.

"There's a risk on each side that the jury isn't going to be able to understand enough of the evidence well enough," Scherr said.
But a jury also can pay off, if attorneys bring morality into it.

"If you have a case that is based at least as much on general equity or the general idea that you're a good guy and the other side is a bad guy, you might want a jury even if the case involves a lot of technical evidence," Peters said.

So far, jurors said, that was the type of testimony that proved most compelling in the case.

Jurors pointed to testimony from a Compuware technical expert who said the similarities between the two companies' products could not have been an accident. E-mails that jurors saw from former Compuware employees talking about their old company's products also were convincing, jurors said.

Adding it all up, juror Sarah Hamady said the case boiled down to deciding between right and wrong. "A lot of the stuff they were going over was almost common sense: Is this right? Was this ethical? Should companies be allowed to do that?"

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