Article 106 of 200
Microsoft scores important point in legal tussle with government ATTENTION - ADDS comment /// by Nathaniel Harrison
Agence France-Presse
(Copyright 2000)


WASHINGTON, June 20 (AFP) - Microsoft scored a key point in its legal tussle with the government Tuesday when US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson suspended an order imposing tough sanctions on its business conduct.

But Jackson also granted a Justice Department request that Microsoft's appeal in the landmark antitrust case be sent directly to the US Supreme Court, bypassing the federal appellate court.

Legal analysts cautioned there was no assurance the high court, scheduled to recess at the end of the month, would take the case. They said it was more likely the justices would send the matter back to the federal appellate court here.

Microsoft is challenging Jackson's conclusion that it committed antitrust violations and that as a result it should be broken up into two competing entities and submit to sanctions on its business practices.

The breakup order had already been under a stay. But Jackson in a surprise move on Tuesday also suspended -- pending appeal -- the restrictions he had placed on Microsoft's relations with computer makers.

"It's a big win for Microsoft because the staying of the sanctions is very important to them -- to be able to operate business for the next year or year and a half without any restrictions," said Nicholas Economides , professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business.

"It's much more important than anything else."

In addition to ordering a breakup of Microsoft into two companies, one to develop operating systems and another specializing in software applications such as Web browsing, Jackson on June 7 called for tough restrictions on Microsoft's dealings with computer manufacturers.

He ordered Microsoft to reveal much of the software code for its Windows operating systems, allow computer manufacturers to change the look of Windows on their PCs and set public pricing guidelines for Windows.

The company warned in response that such a move would have a "devastating" effect on its ability to compete.

"We're obviously very pleased that the court ... decided to stay the entire judgment in the case pending appeal," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray.

"This is very good news because it means that our appeal can go forward promptly without unnecessary disruption to consumers or the high tech industry."

The Justice Department meanwhile took heart at Jackson's decision to send the appeal to the Supreme Court.

"This decision affirms the Department's position that a quick and effective remedy is necessary to resolve this significant case," Justice said in a statement.

"The sooner a meaningful remedy is in place, the better it will be for consumers and the marketplace by providing increased innovation, more choices and better products."

Jackson on Tuesday wrote that immediate consideration by the Supreme Court "is of general public importance in the administration of justice."

A provision of US antitrust law allows appeals to be sent directly to the high court if such a move is deemed by the trial judge to be in the public interest and if resolution of the case in question would likely affect the national economy.

Legal analysts have said the US Circuit Court of Appeals would probably be friendlier territory for Microsoft, notably as in 1998 it ruled in favor of the company -- and against the government -- in an earlier and separate dispute that had also been handled by Jackson.

In a court filing Monday, Microsoft urged Jackson to reject the government's request for the fast-track approach to the Supreme Court, a procedure it said would burden the high court with a complicated, highly technical case requiring review of a wide range of factual issues.

"There is no justification for tendering a complex case with a voluminous record and wide range of factual disputes and contested legal issues directly to the Supreme Court, thus depriving the Supreme Court of the obvious benefits of intermediate appellate review," Microsoft insisted.

Economides is among those legal observers who doubt the high court will agree to hear the full appeal.

"The Supreme Court is geared toward dealing with broader law and constitutional questions and not dealing with details of the facts," he said.



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