Microsoft Antitrust: US States clash over Microsoft ruling

Claimants in the US antitrust case against Microsoft disagreed sharply on whether the company should be released from the rules put in place by a 2002 consent decree, legal filings revealed Thursday.

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Key parts of the consent decree, which grew out of the 2002 antitrust settlement struck with Microsoft by the US Department of Justice and 20 states, are scheduled to expire on 12 November. Those rules, which have been overseen by US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, spell out prohibitions against Microsoft, including ones that bar it from retaliating against manufacturers as well as requirements. Such as, one that demands the company disclose application programming interfaces to competitors so they can make their software run more smoothly with Windows.

Reports filed to Kollar-Kotelly on Thursday show that regulators are split in their opinions of the decree's effectiveness and whether it should be extended past 12 November.

On one side, the US Department of Justice and five states; New York, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio and Wisconsin, told Kollar-Kotelly that the decree had done its job. "The United States and the New York group respectively submit that the final judgments have achieved [their] goals," the group's report read.

Thomas Barnett, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department's antitrust division, was more specific. "The final judgments have been successful in preventing Microsoft from continuing the type of exclusionary behaviour that led to the original lawsuit," he said in a statement.

Six states and the US District of Columbia, all part of the group that rejected the settlement when it was first proposed by the Department of Justice in 2001, sharply dissented.

Lead by California, the group which also includes Washington DC, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Massachusetts, said Microsoft's grip on the industry was as strong as ever. "There can be little doubt that Microsoft's market power remains undiminished and that key provisions of the final judgment have had little or no competitively significant impact.

"Microsoft's commingling violation has not been effectively addressed, Microsoft remains in possession of the fruits of its violation, and the competitive conditions antedating Microsoft's anticompetitive conduct have not been restored," the California group said in its filing. "The final judgment clearly has had little or no discernible impact in the marketplace as measured by the most commonly used metric, market shares," the group said. Its report then went on to cite sources, including research firm IDC, to show that in some cases such as server operating system share, Microsoft's slice has grown dramatically.

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