Microsoft Antitrust Case Nears End




WASHINGTON -- U.S. government lawyers on Tuesday asserted that Microsoft Corp. engaged in a "broad pattern of unlawful conduct" to squelch competition in the personal computer operating systems business.


The U.S. Justice Department, 19 states and the District of Columbia distilled 76 days of testimony into 776 pages of "proposed findings of fact" and submitted the document to presiding District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. The government lawyers say it supports their claim that Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive behavior to fortify its Windows monopoly.


The government said Microsoft integrated its Internet Explorer web browser and other software into Windows - the software that runs more than 90 percent of all personal computers - in an attempt to extend its dominance to emerging markets for new Internet software technologies.


Microsoft, in its own 442-page court submission, countered that its actions were legal and that the government failed to produce evidence that consumers have been harmed. Microsoft argued that by melding its Internet Explorer web browser to Windows, consumers benefited from easier software installation and "a more engaging way to view information about the operating system."


The presentation of findings of fact mark the start of the crucial final phase of the antitrust trial, which began last October and ended June 24.


Though the findings of fact are not a make-or-break document, "they are very important" and are "not taken lightly by either side," said William Kovacic, an antitrust expert and law professor at George Washington University.


"Neither side can pull any rabbits out of their hats at this juncture," he said. "These filings are the principal occasion to pour a cement foundation for the factual record."


After reviewing the filings, Jackson will draft his own finding of fact, which will form the basis for conclusions of law. His conclusions are particularly important, experts say, because appeal courts seldom question a judge's findings of fact.


If it is found to have violated the law, Microsoft could face sanctions ranging from fines to a breakup of the company.


In its court papers, the government asserted that Microsoft "possesses a dominant, persistent, and increasing share of the market for operating systems" for personal computers.


Quoting frequently from the testimony of many of the trial's 30 witnesses, the government said Microsoft's market share reflects "monopoly power." That power, the government argued, was fortified by an anti-competitive campaign that began about four years ago, on June 21, 1995, when the company allegedly proposed an illegal division of the Internet web browser market with rival software developer Netscape Communications Corp.


Since then, Netscape has been purchased by America Online - a point that Microsoft argued bolstered its claims of competition in the Internet browser market.


But the government said Microsoft's campaign broadened to "curtail other actual or potential ... threats to its operating system monopoly." Other targets included Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java computer programming language, Apple Computer's QuickTime multimedia program and software that Intel Corp. was developing to provide sound and video support for PCs, the government alleged.


Microsoft denied that a market division proposal was made, saying that the meeting between its executives and Netscape officials focused on "technical issues."