* Judge says lawyers may question Jobs
* Two hour timeframe for deposition, scope limited
* Apple had sought to prevent any questioning
(Adds background on Jobs health, case details)
NEW YORK, March 22 Apple Inc. (AAPL.O) Chief
Executive Steve Jobs, who is out on medical leave, has been
ordered by a federal judge to answer questions from plaintiffs'
lawyers in an antitrust lawsuit related to his company's iTunes
Judge Howard Lloyd of U.S. District Court for Northern
California ruled that lawyers representing the plaintiffs in
the suit may question Jobs for a total of two hours. He issued
the ruling on Monday.
In the class-action lawsuit, a group of consumers say Apple
created a music-downloading monopoly with its iPod player and
iTunes store. At issue is a piece of software called Fairplay
that allowed only music bought on iTunes to be played on the
iPod, according to the complaint.
One competitor, RealNetworks Inc (RNWK.O), responded in
2004 by introducing a new technology that would allow customers
to play music downloaded from its site on their iPods. Apple
quickly announced a software upgrade to iTunes that once more
blocked music from RealNetworks, the complaint charges.
"The court finds that Jobs has unique, non-repetitive,
first hand knowledge about Apple's software updates in October
2004 that rendered the RealNetworks's digital music files once
again inoperable with iPods," Judge Lloyd wrote in his ruling.
The ruling comes amid intense questions about Jobs' health
and whereabouts. Earlier this month an energetic but thin Jobs
resurfaced to unveil Apple's new iPad. His appearance helped
reassure investors and fans worried about what his absence
means for the company.
Judge Lloyd said the deposition of Jobs would be limited to
questions about the back-and-forth with RealNetworks in 2004.
Apple had sought to prevent the deposition altogether.
The case is in re Apple iPod iTunes antitrust litigation,
Case No. 05-00037, U.S. District Court, Northern District of
Apple is involved in a host of other lawsuits, both as a
plaintiff and defendant, ranging from disputes over patents to
anti-trust allegations. On Monday, Apple sued Amazon.com Inc
(AMZN.O) in a bid to stop the online retailer from improperly
using its APP STORE trademark, according to a court filing.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch in New York and Sakthi Prasad in
Bangalore; Editing by David Holmes and Derek Caney)