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"There is still time for a diplomatic solution, but the lower half of the hourglass is filling rapidly with sand"

--Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on IraqEDITED BY ROBERT McNATT & LARRY LIGHTReturn to top

THE WAR OF THE WENDTS, CONTINUED

THE CELEBRATED WENDT divorce fight is far from over. Lorna Wendt is now seeking to disqualify the Superior Court judge in her heated case against GE Capital Services chief Gary Wendt. Because she believes Judge Kevin Tierney is biased against her, she wants the case referred to a judge outside Fairfield County, Conn. Gary Wendt's lawyers oppose the motion.

Tierney dissolved their 32-year marriage on Dec. 3 and awarded her some $20 million of their assets. But Lorna Wendt is upset that, among other things, the judge valued the assets at the separation date in 1995 rather than at their divorce date. The assets appreciated greatly over those two years due to the booming stock market.

Lorna Wendt, who sought 50% of the assets her lawyers estimate are worth over $100 million, says she isn't fighting simply for more money: "It's the principle that I was an equal partner."

Tierney has yet to issue his full decision, which may total 500 pages. He also has not scheduled a hearing on motions the Wendts filed before Christmas to reopen and reargue parts of the case (such as the asset valuation date)--a likely prelude to an appeal.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATT & LARRY LIGHT John ByrneReturn to top

HAVE PATENT, WILL SUE MICROSOFT

PITY POOR MICROSOFT. AS IF fighting tooth and claw with giants such as the Justice Dept. weren't enough, it's being nibbled by ducks, too.

Worse, here's a nibble that may turn out to be a nasty bite. Martin Reiffin, amateur inventor and retired IBM patent attorney, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., charging Microsoft with infringing on two key patents that cover a chore called preemptive multi-threading, which enables operating-system software to do more than one task at a time. Reiffin was granted the patents in December, after 15 years of rejections.

Reiffin may have a case. Patent litigator Alan Fisch of Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., says this could be a tricky suit, since software patents weren't issued prior to the early '80s. To beat Reiffin, Fisch says, Microsoft might have to spend $1 million to $2 million "to find an obscure computer-science PhD paper that might have proposed this idea." But losing would force it to use other technology or pay Reiffin.

Microsoft says that it is studying Reiffin's claim. However, since the disputed code is in wide use, why was just Microsoft targeted? Quips Reiffin: "As Willie Sutton said, you go where the money is."EDITED BY ROBERT McNATT & LARRY LIGHT Steve HammReturn to top

DID GRIFFIN STACK THE DECK?

DO YOU WONDER WHATEVER happened to Merv Griffin? So do some former shareholders in his Atlantic City casino. They complain that buyer Sun International Hotels bribed Merv to sell his Resorts International at a lowball price.

At issue: the $11 million fee that Bahamas-based Sun paid Griffin to continue using his name, likeness, and expertise after the 1996 takeover. But the lawsuit charges that Griffin did little, if anything, to promote the casino, so the service contract was a sham. And indeed, in an SEC filing three months after the acquisition, Sun said it had written off the $11 million, citing a marketing strategy shift and "uncertainties" about Griffin's future role.

Griffin owned 37% of his casino and served as chairman. Casino shareholders received $210 million in Sun stock, a price the suit says was too low. After the deal was struck, Sun's stock slumped from 52 to a low of 31 in September. It's now back up to 43. Analysts attribute the drop to concerns about an overcrowded gambling climate. Griffin, 72, who owns several hotels and produces such TV shows as Wheel of Fortune, declined comment. Sun's general counsel, Charles Adamo, said that the suit was without merit.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATT & LARRY LIGHTReturn to top


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