Seven states have banded together to challenge Microsoft. California led the charge in seeking to extend the government's antitrust oversight of Microsoft until 2012. That would mean adding five years to a federal court's original judgment.
Microsoft reached its antitrust settlement with the federal government and 17 states in 2002. The oversight is scheduled to expire November 12. But California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown filed a report in late August questioning the effectiveness of the Microsoft consent decree.
Brown has publicly stated the decree has not lived up to its goal of increasing market competition. Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia joined Brown in filing the report. Now, the case is in the judge's hands.
Arguing the Antitrust Case
"It would be shortsighted to end the final judgments just now," Stephen Houck, an attorney representing California, told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in a Tuesday hearing. Houck said the extension is needed to make sure Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, complies with the consent decree.
The California attorneys reported the antitrust settlement hadn't put a dent in Microsoft's dominant share in the operating system market or the Web browser software market. Nevertheless, the five states agreed that, when the consent decree expires in November, "the principal constraint on Microsoft's ability to abuse its market power will be gone."
Kollar-Kotelly has agreed to consider the request, but clarified that the consent decree's intent was not to reduce Microsoft's market share, but to make way for competition by banning anticompetitive behaviors. Kollar-Koetlly said she needed an "identifiable purpose" to extend the oversight. California will file its written request by October 15. Microsoft's final hearing on compliance with the consent decree is still scheduled for November 6.
Will the Judge Extend?
The states aren't the only ones complaining. In June, Google filed a complaint about Vista's search features. Kollar-Kotelly said she would not rule on the complaint. She decided rather to leave the matter in the hands of government lawyers. But this request from state attorneys general could meet with a different outcome.
To persuade the judge to extend the consent decree another five years to monitor Microsoft, these states will essentially have to prove the company is engaged in willful and systematic violations of the current decree, according to attorney Peter S. Vogel of the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell.
"Since Judge Kollar-Kotelly has been monitoring monthly for the past five years, it is unlikely that these six states will succeed in their quest to keep the decree in place," Vogel said.
"It is one thing for a company to dominate a market, and something different to violate the antitrust laws," he continued. "Since Microsoft has been in the microscope of scrutiny since its front page trial, it is hard to believe that there is any evidence of Microsoft's wrongdoings."