Microsoft Appeal Could Drag on

SAN FRANCISCO (06/08/2000) - The next phase in the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case is the appeals process, which will take at least months and probably more than a year to complete. If the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, law experts say it will set the standard for federal antitrust case law for decades to come.

"We are in the middle inning," says Bill Neukom, Microsoft executive vice president for law and corporate affairs. "The appellate phase may go on for many months, maybe a year."

But that's getting ahead of things. The first step is for Microsoft to officially file an appeal--which executives vowed, even before the verdict.

Microsoft executives say they will seek a stay of action, to relieve the company from having to immediately prepare a divestiture plan as ordered by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. His final order, issued Wednesday, gives Microsoft four months to present a plan for divesting into two companies, one focused on applications and the other on the Windows operating system.

"This is the first day of the rest of the case," says Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and chair, at a press conference Wednesday after Jackson's order was released. "We will submit a stay of the order so that the appeal can move forward without any harm to Microsoft or consumers."

Should the district court not approve the stay within 90 days, the ruling takes effect, Neukom says. He notes that the order is essentially the government's original remedy proposals filed in April.

Gates still contends that the central issue to the case is a disagreement with the government as to whether Microsoft can put Internet support--a browser--within Windows.

"It's really common sense that our operating system and every other one would seek to do a great job supporting the Internet," Gates says.

Despite yesterday's ruling, Microsoft expects to win the case and plans to continue with current projects including Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), which are heavily Internet focused.

"We will be seeking a stay on this order and continuing full speed ahead with NGWS," Gates says. "Whichever high court looks at this, we're confident how it will come out on appeal."

Fast Track Possible

When Microsoft files a notice of appeal, the government can invoke within 15 days a legal option to send the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, notes Bill Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who has followed the case closely.

Judge Jackson has said he is likely to suggest the plaintiffs move to ask the Supreme Court to take the case immediately, skipping the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. However, such "fast-track" cases are rare, occurring when the Supreme Court decides that completion of a legal matter has such compelling public interest that months should be cut out of the process.

Kovacic and others think that is unlikely to happen in the Microsoft case, important as it may be.

"They tend to prefer in a case of this magnitude to have the intermediate appellate court sift through the issues and take a first look at them," Kovacic says.

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