Microsoft Anti-Trust Oversight Extended Until 2009 - InformationWeek

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1/30/2008
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Microsoft Anti-Trust Oversight Extended Until 2009

At issue is whether Microsoft has fully shared technical documentation and refrained from anti-competitive business practices.

Microsoft had hoped the United States government would lift a significant portion of its anti-trust restrictions against the company at the end of the month. That's not happening. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly Tuesday extended monitoring of Microsoft until November 2009.

At issue is whether Microsoft has complied with its end of the ruling by fully, openly, and expediously sharing technical documentation with third parties and refraining from certain anti-competitive business practices. The original anti-trust agreement was supposed to expire last November, but Kollar-Kotelly extended it in late October.

Eleven states, including New York and California, had asked the court to extend oversight until 2012. That request was denied, but the states got a partial win. Microsoft, on the other hand, had argued that the five-year term of the original 2002 ruling was finite and shouldn't be allowed to be extended.

Microsoft also had stressed that it was in compliance with many of the provisions of the 2002 ruling.

A few provisions have already been extended, including requirements to license communications protocols and prohibition of "retaliation" against third-party software and hardware vendors. The states had argued that since those provisions had been extended, the court should extend all of the provisions.

Kollar-Kotelly, who has overseen the decade-old Microsoft case since 2001, apparently agreed, as the agreement to license protocols takes up a significant portion of the executive summary of her ruling. "Although the technical documentation project is complex and novel, it is clear that Microsoft is culpable for this inexcusable delay," the ruling says, adding that "Practically speaking, Microsoft has never complied" with the section on communications protocols. The ruling goes on to say that the section in question has significant bearing on the rest of the provisions.

Still, Kollar-Kotelly sided partially with Microsoft, noting that at every step of the way, Microsoft demonstrated willingness to work with the states and a technical committee set up by the court in order to resolve issues, and has been able to generally avoid further litigation through its work.

For its part, Microsoft said it would continue complying with its obligations. "We are gratified that the court recognized our extensive efforts to work cooperatively with the large number of government agencies involved," Microsoft senior VP and general counsel Brad Smith said in a statement. "We built Windows Vista in compliance with these rules, and we will continue to adhere to the decree's requirements."

The court also noted that Microsoft has, "in the face of mounting pressure," created a plan to share the technical documentation. "In many respects, Microsoft's conduct has been a model for parties engaged in complex and protracted litigation," the ruling says. "As such, the Court's extension of the Expiring Provisions should not be viewed as a sanction against Microsoft."

That said, this decree isn't necessarily the end of the case: Kollar-Kotelly left open the possibility of revisiting Microsoft's actions in 2009 and extending oversight for three more years at that time.

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