Federal judge delays decision on Microsoft antitrust oversight

New Jan. 30, 2008, deadline gives all sides more time to argue the case

A federal judge today gave Microsoft Corp., state regulators and the Department of Justice (DOJ) more time to argue whether the company should be held to its antitrust settlement until 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly approved a motion filed by Microsoft, the DOJ, 17 states and the District of Columbia that pushed the extension decision out as far as Jan. 31, 2008. Originally, Kollar-Kotelly was expected to rule next Tuesday on whether major sections of the consent decree that Microsoft and regulators signed in 2002 would expire Nov. 12.

"It would not be practical for the parties fully to brief the motions, and for the court to consider the motions and render a ruling, prior to the current expiration of the final judgments," Kollar-Kotelly said today in a ruling.

"This temporary extension is procedural in nature and not a ruling on the merits of the motions," cautioned Jack Evans, a Microsoft spokesman, in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. "[This] will give Microsoft and the other parties a bit more time to file their briefs and the court more time to issue a ruling."

Although most of the consent decree was to expire in under two weeks, several states have been pressing for another five years of oversight, saying that Microsoft still has a monopoly on the desktop operating system market and could stymie attempts by Web-based applications to break that hold. Earlier this month, California and New York, each leading a different group of states, filed motions with Kollar-Kotelly asking her to watch Microsoft until November 2012.

"The threat that these [Web-based] technologies pose to Microsoft's Windows monopoly through their ability to erode the applications barrier to entry depends, in large part, on Microsoft's willingness to maintain [Internet Explorer] as a standards-compliant browser and to continue supporting cross-platform implementations," the California group said in its filing.

Under the new schedule, Microsoft will have until Nov. 6 to submit its response to the California and New York requests for further oversight. U.S. antitrust regulators have until Nov. 9 to file a brief explaining why the DOJ doesn't want an extension, and the states will have until Nov. 16 to reply.

Kollar-Kotelly did not set a date for her ruling, saying only that it would come before the Jan. 30 deadline. She has given no hint as to how she will rule, but antitrust experts said as recently as last week that it would be a long shot to expect her to add another five years to the decree. "She is going to have to have some evidence that the decree hasn't done what it's supposed to extend," said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust scholar at the University of Iowa College of Law. "She'll need more than what she's heard."

Microsoft has maintained that the 2002 agreement has served its purpose, and will presumably argue that point in its filing next week.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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