The Fat Lady Hasn't Sung - Federal Appeals Court Doesn't Like Microsoft Settlement!

in General Discussion edited January 2014
Court Eyes Microsoft Settlement Terms

Tuesday November 4, 7:11 pm ET

By Ted Bridis, AP Technology Writer

Federal Appeals Court Signals Lingering Dissatisfaction on Some Terms of Microsoft Antitrust Settlement

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday pointedly questioned whether the Bush administration's antitrust settlement with Microsoft Corp. adequately protects consumers and competitors from monopolistic abuses.

Legal experts said it was unlikely the six-judge panel from the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia would accept as adequate only the sanctions that Microsoft accepted under the settlement, given the serious questions that some of the judges raised during a lively three-hour hearing.

"They surprised me," said Robert Lande, a University of Baltimore law professor who has followed the case closely. "I went into this thinking there was little probability they would do anything except rubber-stamp the settlement."

Circuit Judge Judith W. Rogers asked lawyers about how the disputed antitrust settlement denies Microsoft the fruits of its illegal business practices toward its commercial rivals during the late 1990s. She said some penance was necessary; "otherwise, monopolists could squelch all comers without consequence."

The judges questioned whether the settlement has spurred the largest computer makers to install competing software from Microsoft's fiercest rivals, one principal aim of the landmark agreement.

Circuit Judge David S. Tatel said he "may agree" that computer makers still are discouraged from offering such rival software to consumers because Microsoft builds its own versions into its dominant Windows operating system, the engine that runs most of the world's personal computers.

Judge A. Raymond Randolph suggested that computer makers fear confusion among customers over duplicate software programs would raise their technical support costs, cutting into already thin profits.

The appeals court agreed in June 2001 that Microsoft illegally abused its monopoly with Windows software. It was expected to decide in coming months whether the Bush administration and 19 states negotiated adequate antitrust sanctions in a court-approved settlement.

The attorney general in one state, Tom Reilly of Massachusetts, and two anti-Microsoft trade organizations want tougher penalties. Reilly has argued that the settlement was so profoundly flawed that its approval by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly represented an abuse of her discretion.

"There's no indication there's going to be a major reworking, but there is some reason to believe that a rubber stamp is not in order, either," said Andrew Gavil, a law professor at Howard University.

Robert Bork, former appeals judge representing Microsoft's rivals, told the circuit judges the settlement was "utterly inadequate." He complained that the government settled the case after it had already won significant courtroom victories, which is highly unusual.

"The government had this case cold, and there was no reason to negotiate away the things it negotiated away," Bork said.

"Don't we owe any deference to the Department of Justice and the judge?" Tatel asked Bork. Bork responded no, and complained that some provisions of the antitrust settlement were too ambiguous to be enforced effectively.

"Some people find ambiguity in a no-smoking sign," Judge David B. Sentelle said.

Deborah Majoras, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said the settlement represented "prompt, certain and effective relief." She said Bork was "simply wrong" to suggest that the agreement hasn't already forced Microsoft to change its practices toward rivals.

Majoras stammered under unusually tough questions from the panel about the government's efforts to prevent the two anti-Microsoft trade groups from appealing the settlement.

But she also won praise from Chief Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg for her "very powerful answer" describing how one proposal to remove some Microsoft software from Windows might cause other programs to malfunction.

The appeals court generally has proved a favorable venue for Microsoft. It removed two other trial judges in 1995 and 2001 who ruled against the company, Stanley Sporkin and Thomas Penfield Jackson. It also overturned a contempt ruling against Microsoft by Jackson, and the court blocked Jackson's plans to break apart the company before it threw him off the case.

The same appeals court unanimously agreed, however, with Jackson's ruling that Microsoft had illegally abused its monopoly over Windows operating system software, and it instructed Kollar-Kotelly to impose new sanctions. Within months -- and soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks -- the sides instead negotiated the disputed settlement.


  • Reply 1 of 1
    alcimedesalcimedes Posts: 5,486member
    i'm guessing 9/11 really helped MS out.

    who wants to kneecap the country's largest software provider when things are already shakey?

    now though? sounds like there's blood in the water.
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