Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 11 News List

Microsoft antitrust accord appealed by Massachusetts


Massachusetts appealed a federal judge's approval of Microsoft Corp's antitrust settlement with the US government, delaying the end of a 4 1/2-year-old legal challenge that once threatened a breakup of the world's biggest software maker.

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said he filed the appeal today with a federal appeals court in Washington. Seven of the nine states that refused to join the settlement and the District of Columbia said they won't appeal, and West Virginia said it will decide by Monday's deadline.

"If ever there was a loser on its face, that's it" Ernest Gellhorn, who teaches antitrust law at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, said about the Massachusetts appeal. He called US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's decision approving the settlement "bulletproof."

The appeal frustrates Microsoft's attempt to close the book on the landmark antitrust case. The company agreed to settle the case last year, after an appeals court found it broke the law in protecting its monopoly on the Windows operating system, which runs 95 percent of the world's personal computers. The dissenting states sought tougher restrictions on Microsoft.

Microsoft now must continue to devote resources to a case that "was just an enormous drain on executive time and attention," Gellhorn said.

"Our focus remains on complying fully with the court's judgment, working collaboratively with governments to address important public policy issues and on developing innovative products that will benefit consumers," Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said.

Reilly said he decided to appeal because the settlement contains "nothing that would change Microsoft's business practices in any significant way."

"The remedy must send a message that breaking the law does not pay," he said.

Other states that joined in challenging the settlement said they'll devote their attention to ensuring that Microsoft lives up to the settlement terms instead of pursuing further appeals.

"Consumer interests are now best served by turning our focus to enforcement," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. ``Our energies and resources are best devoted to assuring that the court decree has practical, real world benefits -- enabling consumers to have new and better products, higher quality and lower prices."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer declared the antitrust case a triumph for consumers.

"While not completely satisfying, the court decree closed enforcement loopholes, keeps compliance with the remedies squarely before the court and allows us to turn our attention to making sure that Microsoft competes fairly in the marketplace," Lockyer said in a statement.

In addition to Massachusetts, Connecticut, California and West Virginia, the dissenting states included Iowa, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota and Utah, along with the District of Columbia.

The states urged Kollar-Kotelly to make Microsoft place its Internet Explorer Web browser in the public domain and manufacture a version of Windows that would allow computer makers to remove Explorer and other features.

The judge rejected most of the state requests for tougher restrictions, approving the settlement with the Justice Department and nine other states that requires Microsoft to give computer makers freedom to promote competing products without fear of retribution.

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