Antitrust law is 110 years old

Microsoft's planned appeal to yesterday's ruling that it broke a 110-year-old antitrust law could see the handing down of penalties suspended for up to two years, an industry lawyer has predicted.

In fact, Oliver Barrett, who heads legal firm Minter Ellison's technology group, said he would be "staggered" if Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's "conclusions of law" remained intact after Microsoft's appeal.

Because of the legal complexities likely to ensue from the appeal, it will be difficult to predict a suitable or likely penalty for the breach of US federal law, he said.

Barrett expects the Microsoft court ruling will resurface in the near future as a precedent. While Judge Jackson's findings centred around Microsoft's anticompetitive dealings with Sun and Netscape, Barrett said the software development industry was likely to see a flurry of smaller developers using the finding as a springboard for further lawsuits against the caged beast.

It is also possible that the court ruling will affect Sun Microsystems' separate legislation against Microsoft regarding Microsoft's attempted market domination of Java.

According to Barrett, the anti-monopolistic Sherman Antitrust Law was enacted in the US in 1890. He said the law, which is comparable to Australian trade practice laws enforced by the ACCC, was designed to thwart already powerful companies, typically railway developers, from distorting the market to heighten their market share.

"It's so incongruous," Barrett said. "It (antitrust law) is being used in a way the draftspeople couldn't have possibly considered."

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