Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 12:19 GMT
Business: The Company File
Ruling shakes Microsoft
Bill Gates could be forced to break up his Microsoft empire
Microsoft has indicated it is prepared to seek a settlement of the long-running antitrust case after a judge ruled that it was using its power to monopolise the market.
Federal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that the world's leading computer software company had too much power through its Windows operating system and had abused this power against competitors.
The BBC North America business correspondent, Richard Quest, says the case is being seen as a test on how such companies should behave in the internet age.
The judge's Findings of Fact - released on the internet at 2330 GMT on Friday - are the first stage of his ruling in a complex legal battle, which could lead to serious sanctions against Microsoft.
The company is planning to continue the legal fight but has indicated there is room for compromise.
"Microsoft is committed to resolving this case in a fair and responsible manner while ensuring that the principles of consumer benefit and innovation are protected," said Mr Gates.
But he added that "any talks would have to fully and properly address our competitive concerns."
For many in the high-tech industries the decision is also an indication that the old laws used to break up oil companies and railroads will work just as well in the digital age.
There the judge will decide what to do. He has many options, everything from putting restrictions on the type of investments Microsoft makes, to breaking the company up into many parts.
The further schedule of legal proceedings has been laid out in a brief order issued by the judge.
Within a month, by 6 December, the government has to submit its briefing on issues of law, with Microsoft's response due by 17 January.
The judge said if necessary, a special briefing would be scheduled to address these matters.
Mr Neukom said there was "a possibility" Microsoft could appeal any ruling on liability by Judge Jackson before any remedies were ordered.
However, he said it also was possible Microsoft would not get a chance to appeal until after a remedy was ordered.
In that case Microsoft would ask the appellate court to delay imposition of the remedy until after the appeal was decided, he added.
He estimated the federal appeals process would take "at least a year," even on an expedited basis, with an appeal by either side to the Supreme Court possible after that.
A long-running conflict
The US Justice Department and 19 US states had charged Microsoft, the world's biggest software company, with abusing its monopoly power in order to sell more copies of its own internet browser, Internet Explorer, and damage the business prospects of the rival Netscape Navigator browser.
But Microsoft argued that, although its Windows operating system runs on 90% of the world's personal computers, it did not act as a monopoly and instead benefited its customers by giving them additional features at no extra cost.
Microsoft is the world's biggest company by market value, worth $470bn on the Nasdaq stock market, while Bill Gates has a personal fortune of more than $100bn.
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