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Five more years of punishment for Microsoft?

US states push for longer MS antitrust judgment

State plaintiffs in the US Microsoft antitrust case want a five-year extension of a large portion of the 2002 judgment against the company. Most of the MS antitrust judgment was scheduled to expire in November.

Microsoft still retains a huge lead in the operating system and web browser markets, said Stephen Houck, a lawyer for the "California group": California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

As a consequence, the group want an extension of most of the middleware portions of the judgment, Houck said.

"Microsoft continues to have a stranglehold over the two products... that nearly all consumers use," Houck said during an antitrust compliance hearing in US District Court for the District of Columbia. "Very little has happened in five years... in those markets."

The California group will ask for an extension of all the middleware portions of the antitrust judgement, except for a section that governs the royalties Microsoft can charge PC manufacturers for the Windows operating system.

Microsoft lawyer Rick Rule said the company would need time to respond to Houck's proposal. Microsoft first heard of the plan to ask for an extension on Friday, he said, and the California group plans to file a formal extension request with the court in mid-October.

Rule seemed to suggest Microsoft would fight the five-year extension. US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declined to impose a 10-year judgment in 2002, he said.

"We think the picture of the computer industry is much rosier," Rule added. "We think it's clear that the decree has done its job."

Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said the company will respond in more detail after it has seen the extension request.

"We're a bit surprised that a few states are now requesting an extension of the consent decree, since they indicated just last month that they're not too fond of it," Evans said.

In August 2006, Microsoft already agreed to an extension of the section of the judgment requiring it to make its communications protocols available to other software vendors. Microsoft's efforts to fix technical documentation for the protocols have run into several delays. Houck on Tuesday asked Kollar-Kotelly to extend the communications protocol section of the judgment until 2012.

The California group does not "have any confidence" Microsoft will continue to improve the communications protocol program without oversight, Houck said. An independent auditor's report just issued questions whether Microsoft has released all the protocols mandated in the judgment, he added.

The California group's extension proposal comes after the US Department of Justice and the New York group of states filed briefs last month saying the antitrust judgment has done its job.

"There have been a number of developments in the competitive landscape... that suggest that the Final Judgments are accomplishing their stated goal of fostering competitive conditions among middleware products, unimpeded by anticompetitive exclusionary obstacles erected by Microsoft," said the report from the DOJ and New York group, which includes five states.

But Houck Tuesday disputed that assessment. At the time of the judgment, a handful of PC vendors were preinstalling a competing web browser on PCs, he said. Today, no major ones are, he said.


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