Saying "speed is of the essence," the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Friday asked the federal appeals court overseeing the Microsoft antitrust case to quickly send the matter back to a trial court for the determination of remedies against the company.
"Delay in imposing an effective remedy inflicts substantial and widespread consumer injury and needlessly prolongs uncertainty in the computer industry," the DOJ said in a legal filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals. "In these circumstances, the public interest is plainly served by allowing proceedings . . . to go forward as quickly as possible."
The DOJ, along with the remaining 18 states that are involved in the antitrust case, also said that it doesn't plan to ask for a rehearing of last month's ruling by the appeals court or to appeal the panel's findings to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeals court issued its decision on June 28 and has 45 days to officially send it back to the U.S. District Court for further action.
In its ruling, the appeals court rejected a breakup order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that sought to split Microsoft in two, separating the company's operating systems from the rest of its products. It also disqualified Jackson from the case and ordered a new trial judge, to be picked at random through the use of a software program, to reconsider the government's claim that Microsoft illegally tied its Internet Explorer browser to Windows.
But Microsoft still faces potentially significant remedies, including the continued possibility of a breakup, for using anticompetitive means to maintain its monopoly in desktop operating systems -- a Jackson finding that was upheld by the appeals court.
The government has sought to expedite the antitrust case from the onset. At the DOJ's urging, Jackson limited the number of witnesses he allowed to testify in order to move the trial along. The DOJ later unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court for an immediate review of Jackson's ruling, which would have bypassed the appeals court altogether. Even so, the appellate panel moved rapidly on the case.
Microsoft couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the DOJ's latest request. Ed Black, CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a Washington-based trade group that has supported the government's case, applauded the filing as "an attempt to make sure that the courts move as quickly as possible to prevent Microsoft's delaying tactics from being successful."
The move by the DOJ comes two days after Microsoft announced a series of changes in its OEM licensing policies for Windows, including the option for PC makers to remove Internet Explorer entries and icons from the Windows start menu. Microsoft acknowledged that the changes were made in response to the appeals court's decision and said they would take effect immediately in an attempt to avoid any effect on the planned Oct. 25 release of its Windows XP operating system In a further development, Microsoft Thursday reached a settlement deal with New Mexico, one of the 19 states involved in the antitrust case. That agreement calls for Microsoft to pay New Mexico's legal fees, which are estimated to total about $100,000, and for the state to get the benefit of any additional settlement deals negotiated between the company and the remaining government plaintiffs.