Appeals court sets timetable for Microsoft antitrust case

The federal appeals court that will hear Microsoft Corp.'s appeal of the breakup order issued against the company in June today set out a schedule for the antitrust case calling for the two sides to begin filing written briefs next month and to present their oral arguments in late February.

The Washington-based U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Microsoft to file its initial brief by Nov. 27 and placed a 150-page limit on the document -- less than the 200-page limit that Microsoft had requested. Any supporting briefs planned by allies of Microsoft must be filed the same day, the court said.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will then have until Jan. 12 to file a 125-page brief in response to Microsoft's appeal. A group of states involved in the case with the DOJ were given the same deadline for submitting a brief of no more than 25 pages, and the appeals court said any friend-of-the-court briefs backing the government's position also have to be filed by then.

Microsoft will get a chance to file a 75-page response to the government briefs on Jan. 29. The company had asked for more time to file its original brief and to respond to the ones submitted by the government -- 60 days in the former case, and 30 days in the latter one. But the DOJ objected, saying those time allotments were longer than necessary (see story).

Final written arguments are due from both sides on Feb. 9, and oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27 before the appeals court, which received the antitrust case last month after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request by the DOJ that it directly hear Microsoft's appeal in order to expedite the proceedings (see story).

The Supreme Court's decision followed two months of arguments between Microsoft and the DOJ over which court should have initial jurisdiction over the appeals process. The government argued that the antitrust case deserved an immediate review by the nation's highest court because of its importance to the U.S. and global economies.

But Microsoft contended that the case should go through the normal appeals process so the U.S. Court of Appeals could clarify the legal issues involved in the matter before the Supreme Court ultimately weighs in on the breakup order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. The ruling by Jackson calls for Microsoft to be split into two companies -- one for its operating systems, the other for the rest of its products.

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