DOJ, Microsoft File for Antitrust Extension

Microsoft Corporation and the U.S. Department of Justice have filed formal requests with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to give Microsoft an additional two years to finish up technical documentation required as part of the DOJ’s landmark 2002 antitrust settlement with the company. The settlement, overseen by Kollar-Kotelly (PDF), asserted Microsoft had illegally maintained its monopoly in computer operating systems and stifled competition. Terms of the settlement agreement had been scheduled to expire in November 2007; the Justice Department originally proposed granting Microsoft another two years in May 2006.

Under terms of the settlement, Microsoft is required to (among other things) document and license the communication technologies and protocols third party developers need to create products which interoperate with Microsoft’s Windows operating system. However, as of mid-2006, hundred of issues remain outstanding with Microsoft’s documentation: a technical committee working with the antitrust plaintiffs (including 17 U.S. states) found 575 issues with the documentation, with 79 high-priority issues and 414 additional problems.

If Judge Kollar-Kotelly approves the extension, the DOJ and state plaintiffs can ask for another three-year extension if there are still extant problems with Microsoft’s documentation. Microsoft has stated it would not oppose a second extension.

Reactions to the proposed extension are mixed; on one hand, it pushed the antitrust cloud hanging over Microsoft’s head further out into the future, ensuring the already eight year-old issue will linger for at least a decade in the company’s history. On the other hand, critics complain that extending the term let Microsoft skate on complying with terms of the settlement, effectively enabling the company to continue using the business practices which got it into antitrust hot water in the first place.

Microsoft faces similar antitrust concerns in the European Union—where it is appealing possible daily fines—and South Korea.

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