MS-DOJ saga may be nearing end

What may be the final scene in the 4-year-old antitrust drama between Microsoft Corp. and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will begin to unfold Wednesday, as U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly listens to arguments for and against the settlement reached by the parties.

At the hearing, Microsoft, the DOJ, and the nine states that agreed to a proposed settlement will have at least an hour each to present their support of the settlement, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler.

“We will explain in clear and compelling ways why the settlement is in the public interest,” Desler said, adding that Microsoft will also commit to “firm compliance” with the consent decree, which is what the settlement will become if the judge approves it.

The judge can choose to approve, deny, or modify the settlement.

But the hearing won’t be limited to the parties involved in the case. Based on allowances provided by the Tunney Act, a federal law that outlines proceedings for antitrust cases that the government settles in order to ensure public interest, Judge Kollar-Kotelly will let a number of third parties speak at the hearing.

Among the parties granted requests to speak for no more than 10 minutes are the American Antitrust Institute Inc., the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), the Computer & Communications Industry Association Inc., the Project to Promote Competition & Innovation in the Digital Age (ProComp), SBC Communications Inc. and the Software and Information Industry Association.

Microsoft, the DOJ, and the states will be allowed to respond to the third parties during the hearing, Desler said.

With the exception of ACT, these groups were also granted permission to file with the court documents up to 25 pages detailing their positions on the proposed settlement, although the judge warned that these arguments must not repeat those made by the parties during the 60-day public comment period that preceded the hearing.

The nine states plus the District of Columbia that did not agree to the settlement with Microsoft have also been allowed to participate in the proceedings. Kollar-Kotelly granted a request from them to file briefs and exhibits gleaned from a deposition with a Microsoft executive that they think show how Microsoft is already using the terms of the proposed settlement to maintain its monopoly position in the PC operating system market.

The court will let Microsoft respond to the nonsettling states’ filing, and the states will be allowed to reply to the response, according to court documents.

In addition, Kollar-Kotelly will allow Microsoft competitor Novell Inc., nonprofit Internet organization NetAction, and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility to file documents addressing new issues raised in the revised version of the settlement that Microsoft, the DOJ, and the settling states agreed to last week. The revision eliminates a clause that the nonsettling states interpreted as allowing Microsoft to force licensees to give up their intellectual property rights.

The settlement hearing is not expected to last more than a day or two. On Monday March 11, Kollar-Kotelly will begin remedy hearings in the case between Microsoft and the states that chose not to settle.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is at http://www.microsoft.com/

The DOJ can be found at http://www.doj.gov