MS/DoJ: Govt details charges against Microsoft

The US federal government and 19 US states allege that Microsoft engaged in illegal "monopoly maintenance" to protect and extend its market dominant Windows PC operating system software and then tried to monopolize the Internet browser market, according to court papers filed yesterday.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) along with attorneys general from the US states and the District of Columbia allege that Microsoft violated the Sherman Act, the cornerstone of the nation's antitrust laws, in at least four different ways. Among the other allegations made in the court papers are that Microsoft engaged in a variety of illegal business practices, including tying its Web browser to Windows, entered into exclusionary agreements with computer makers, Internet access providers and content providers, and impaired competitors' access to consumers.

The filings come as the historic antitrust case enters its final phase. US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson had asked the parties to file proposed findings of law after he ruled last month on the facts in the case. In those findings of fact, Jackson indicated that Microsoft has a monopoly on Intel-based PC operating system software and that the company has used that power to hurt consumers, stifle innovation and thwart competition.

Microsoft has until January 17 to file its own proposed interpretation of how the law should be applied to the set of facts Jackson issues. After that, the two sides each can submit rebuttals. Oral arguments are scheduled for February 22.

Yesterday's court filings allege that Microsoft violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act "through a host of actions that illegally maintained the critical barrier to entry into, and hence its monopoly in, the market for operating systems for Intel-compatible personal computers," according to the document.

Secondly, the document also alleges that Microsoft violated Section 1 of the act by illegally tying its Internet Explorer Web browser to its Windows operating system. A third allegation states that Microsoft also violated Section 1 of the act by entering into "exclusionary" agreements with personal computer manufacturers and with ISPs, online service providers and Internet content providers. Lastly, "Microsoft's anticompetitive campaign to impair (Netscape Communications' rival Web browser) Navigator's competitive access to consumers constituted an unlawful attempt to monopolize the browser market," a Section 2 violation of the Sherman Act.

The DoJ filing is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/

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