Head Microsoft legal counsel to retire

As Microsoft Corp. nears a conclusion to its long-fought antitrust battle with the U.S. government, the company announced Wednesday that its top legal advisor, Bill Neukom, who played a lead role in the case, will retire from his duties at the end of the fiscal year in mid-2002.

Brad Smith, who has served five years as Microsoft’s deputy general counsel for worldwide sales, focusing mainly on the company’s legal efforts to reduce software piracy, will succeed Neukom, the company said in a statement.

Neukom has spent the last 22 years at Microsoft heading up its legal team, signing on with the software maker after working at a law firm led by Bill Gates Jr., the father of the billionaire software mogul and Microsoft founder. By 1985, Neukom had built up a legal affairs department with more than 600 employees, including 200 attorneys.

Most recently, Neukom led the company’s efforts to reach a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and nine of the 18 states suing Microsoft. He also helped draft a settlement announced Tuesday that would end more than 100 class action lawsuits related to alleged overpricing on Microsoft’s part.

During his tenure, Neukom brought an end to Microsoft’s seven-year legal dispute with Apple Computer Inc. over intellectual property rights, and also helped to come up with the 1994 consent decree that brought to a close early antitrust complaints brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the DOJ and the European Union.

Neukom has also stood watch over legal disputes with Sun Microsystems Inc. over the use of the Java programming language, a patent dispute with Priceline Inc. as well as over a private antitrust case with Bristol Technology Inc.

In the statement, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer praised Neukom for creating what Ballmer called “one of the most respected and capable legal and corporate affairs departments anywhere in the world.”

Smith, who in addition to managing antipiracy efforts heads up all of Microsoft’s competition law, litigation and government affairs work outside the United States, will take over Neukom’s day-to-day management duties in early 2002, Microsoft said. He will take over officially at the end of the company’s fiscal year on June 30, 2002. Neukom will stay on to assist with the transition until July.

In interview Wednesday, Smith said he expects the key legal issues Microsoft will face moving forward will have to do with its continued efforts to curb software piracy, as well as issues that arise in the aftermath of the antitrust case.

For instance, if U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge heading up the current phase of the antitrust case, signs off on the consent decree forged between Microsoft and the DOJ and nine states, Smith said the company will have its hands full adhering to the demands set forth.

“We’ve got two or three very clear-cut priorities moving forward,” Smith said. “One is to establish a strong track record complying with this consent decree. A second key priority is to strengthen our ties with the rest of the industry.

“I’d really like to see the law department play a constructive role in helping the industry work together,” he said.

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