MS/DOJ: Ruling may give private suits ammunition

Microsoft Corp. and attorneys for competitors and consumers suing the software giant on Monday gave differing interpretations of a ruling in a group of private antitrust cases brought against the company.

Judge Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled Monday that 395 findings of fact made against Microsoft in 1999 could be used in the cases. However, he gave Microsoft one last chance to convince him to leave out or modify some of those findings. Microsoft would have to file a brief by Nov. 20 to make that argument.

Antitrust suits by Sun Microsystems Inc., Netscape Communications Corp. and other vendors, along with more than 100 consumer class-action antitrust suits, have been brought together before Judge Motz.

The findings of fact were among those that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued against Microsoft involving anticompetitive behaviour. His findings said that Microsoft has a monopoly in the PC operating systems market and that the company would use its market power to stifle competitors.

By his decision Monday, Motz said Microsoft can’t contest the inclusion of those findings, unless the Redmond, Wash., company can convince him otherwise, said Stanley Chesley, an attorney at Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, in Cincinnati, and co-chair of the consumers’ case.

“If and when we go to trial, we can rely on these findings of fact…unless the judge reverses himself based on this brief that they are entitled to file.” Chesley said. “This will cut the time required to try this case by at least half to two-thirds,” he added.

However, Microsoft said Motz is allowing it to contest the use of the findings.

After Jackson gave his findings in 1999, the case against Microsoft was narrowed by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2000, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler.

“The process allows for Microsoft to contest certain findings of fact that are no longer applicable, given that the court of appeals drastically narrowed the liability against the company,” he said.