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Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Microsoft wins a round in antitrust battle in US

AP , SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Microsoft Corp has cleared another hurdle in its US antitrust battles, greatly easing the software giant's legal worries in this country and allowing it to focus on its significant antitrust battle with the EU.

The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday unanimously approved Microsoft's landmark antitrust settlement with the Justice Department (DOJ), saying the settlement was ``in its entirety'' in the public's interest. The decision set aside objections by Massachusetts that sanctions were inadequate.

"I think this is really the last stage of the DOJ case playing itself out," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with independent researchers Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft's top lawyer, Brad Smith, said Wednesday's decision, which follows a spate of settlements involving other antitrust allegations, was the most important in resolving the company's US antitrust woes.

"We have resolved disputes with our competitors, we have settled the high majority of state class-action [cases], and yet until this decision from the Court of Appeals was in place, there was still an important question mark remaining," Smith said.

In the past week alone, Microsoft has reached proposed settlements of class-action antitrust allegations in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Arizona. Smith said those settlements leave the company with class-action lawsuits pending in five states.

The company also has settled several private antitrust claims. Most notably, it recently reached a US$1.6 billion legal settlement with its former rival, Sun Microsystems Inc, ending a protracted legal wrestling match.

However, Microsoft was unsuccessful in its attempts to settle antitrust allegations in the EU earlier this year. In March, the company was ordered to pay a fine of around US$600 million. It also was told to sell a version of its Windows computer operating system without its digital media player and to share more information with rivals in the server market.

On Sunday, the EU temporarily suspended those orders pending a judge's decision on whether sanctions should be delayed until the company's appeals are exhausted. The entire process is expected to take years.

Although the EU case is the most significant legal issue facing Microsoft, it still faces some antitrust battles in the US.

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