Steve Jobs to take the stand in Apple antitrust suit

Apple is back in the courtroom to defend itself from antitrust allegations and Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of the tech giant, is set to be the star witness for the plaintiffs, via taped deposition.

The decadelong class action, antitrust lawsuit will also bring to focus several of Jobs' emails about Apple's treatment of competitors, like RealNetworks, a smaller player in the MP3 market.

The plaintiffs argue that after an iPod upgrade in 2006, music from competitors no longer played on Apple devices, essentially illegally shutting out rivals from the MP3 market. In doing so, the plaintiffs contend, Apple harmed consumers because they were were "locked" into the tech giant's products.

Apple could then charge more since it had a monopoly over the portable device music market. The plaintiffs estimate damages at $350 million, but if antitrust violations are proven, damages could exceed $1 billion.

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The company argued that the iPod updates were legitimate product improvements, that there's no proof of harm to consumers and denies that it exerted monopoly power.

As for Apple's chances, "it will have to convince a jury that the software updates were a genuine product improvement," according to a San Francisco-based antitrust lawyer who reviewed the case.

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Adding to the peculiarities of the case are the fact that presiding Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers is not permitting the defendants (or plaintiffs) to tell the jury that Jobs died of cancer, and is discouraging defendants from referring to him as a "visionary."

"Although juries are unpredictable" the antitrust lawyer says, "I think that this could prove difficult" for Apple since the case "is technical and difficult to understand." With the plaintiffs; case much simpler: Apple made iPod and iTunes exclusively compatible just to prevent competitors from entering the market.

A few other Apple heavyweights are also slated to testify, including Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, and Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet software and services. The $1 billion would not even be 1 percent of Apple's cash hoard of $155 billion as reported in the tech giant's most recent quarterly earnings report.

Opening statements are set to start Tuesday, at the Oakland, California, federal courthouse. The case is Apple iPod iTunes Antitrust Litigation, 4:05-cv-00037-YGR.