Judge to hear why Microsoft wants delay

Software firm wins Monday hearing to argue its case

January 03, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - Microsoft Corp. won a chance yesterday to argue in court that it's entitled to a four-month delay in hearings on nine states' proposals for tougher penalties in the 3 1/2 -year-old antitrust case.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly scheduled a court session for Monday to consider Microsoft's request to postpone the remedy hearings from March until July or August.

The nine states are seeking to impose broader restrictions on Microsoft's business practices than are contained in a proposed settlement with the Justice Department and nine other states. On Monday, the states opposed Microsoft's request for the postponement. "That Microsoft stands to benefit from delay is obvious," they said.

The judge's willingness to give Microsoft a hearing doesn't signal that she will grant the delay, said Andrew Gavil, who teaches antitrust law at Howard University law school in Washington. It only shows "she doesn't want to appear cursory in anything she does" to avoid further appeal issues for Microsoft, he said.

Microsoft shares, which have risen 8.4 percent since the settlement was announced Nov. 2, rose 79 cents to $67.04 yesterday.

Kollar-Kotelly gave no indication whether she would rule from the bench at Monday's hearing on Microsoft's request to delay the remedy hearings.

Microsoft says it needs more time to prepare for the hearings because the remedy proposal by the dissenting states marks a "dramatic expansion" of the case.

The states seek to force Microsoft to forfeit control of its Internet Explorer browser and give computer manufacturers the option of installing the Windows operating system without the Web searching software.

By requesting a delay of at least four months, Microsoft hopes to win Kollar-Kotelly's approval of the settlement with the Bush administration before she considers the dissenting states' proposals for tougher remedies.

Under the proposed settlement, Microsoft would give computer makers the option of hiding access to Internet Explorer and other programs, such as the Windows Media Player. Computer makers would be free to promote rival programs such as RealNetworks Inc.'s RealPlayer for digital music and video.

Microsoft would also give software rivals the code needed to run competing programs on Windows.

The dissenting states argue that the proposed settlement contains so loopholes that it would let Microsoft continue bullying computer makers and quashing new threats to its Windows monopoly. Windows runs about 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

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