Judge Gives Microsoft Two More Years

In an unexpected move, the judge overseeing Microsoft's U.S. antitrust settlement extends the consent decree for two more years.

Microsoft seems to have all the luck – not.

The judge overseeing Microsoft's consent decree with the U.S. government on Tuesday extended that oversight for another two years instead of letting it expire as Microsoft had requested.

The majority of Microsoft's settlement agreement was set to expire in November 2007, but two groups of states petitioned the court, asking that the monitoring continue for a second five-year term. The judge, with Microsoft and the states' consent, extended the case until this week so that she could examine all the arguments.

However, instead of letting the consent decree lapse, Federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly reset the expiration date to November 12, 2009 – a two year extension of oversight.

The reason? In a move remarkably similar to the European Commission's antitrust actions against Microsoft, the company took too long in setting up a program for providing communications protocols and other needed documentation to competitors.

"The Court’s decision in this matter is based upon the extreme and unforeseen delay in the availability of complete, accurate, and usable technical documentation relating to the Communications Protocols that Microsoft is required to make available to licensees under … the Final Judgments," Judge Kollar-Kotelly said in an executive summary of her decision that she provided to the media.

Microsoft was hoping that the 2002 consent decree would expire – with the exception of its protocol licensing program which the company had already agreed to extend until 2009. Under the new ruling, all of the oversight will expire at the same time.

The company's legal chief tried to put the best face on this latest setback.

"We will continue to comply fully with the consent decree," Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com. "We built Windows Vista in compliance with these rules, and we will continue to adhere to the decree’s requirements."

Microsoft is also pleased that the judge limited the extension to two years rather than the five years requested by the states. (The U.S. Department of Justice had sided with Microsoft in requesting that the oversight be allowed to lapse.)

The company's executives have made a concerted attempt recently to get out from under as many of its long-standing legal weights as possible.

Still, the news is not good because it leaves the company in the situation of being a sitting duck for competitors and others to claim further violations during the extension period.

"[The additional oversight] puts them at a substantial disadvantage," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at researcher The Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com. "It can be a real drag on a company, making them substantially less agile than competitors," he said.

"Two years is better than five, but they really need to get off this merry-go-round," Enderle added.

TAGS: Windows,search,Microsoft,Vista,antitrust,e-Mail,DOJ

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