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banner Monday, 3 April, 2000, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
US v Microsoft: The spin begins
Microsoft has the most to gain from a lengthy process
Microsoft has the most to gain from a lengthy process
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

The blame game has begun in the US Government's anti-trust case against software giant Microsoft as to who is responsible for failed settlement talks.

On Saturday, a frustrated federal mediator, Judge Richard Posner, said settlement talks were at an impasse.

Anti-trust law professor Bob Lande said: "Now you're going to get the spin."

Microsoft tried to portray dissent among the plaintiffs - the federal government and attorneys general from 19 states - as dooming the talks.

But sources close to the talks said they broke down because of Microsoft's lack of compromise on its settlement proposal and not disagreement among the plaintiffs.

Microsoft blames states

In declaring the talks stalled, Judge Posner said in a statement, "I particularly want to emphasise that the collapse of the mediation is not due to any lack of skill, flexibility, energy, determination, or professionalism on the part of the Department of Justice and Microsoft Corporation."

Microsoft seized upon an omission in Judge Posner's statement.
Federal mediator Richard Posner
Mediator Richard Posner did not mention the states in praising the efforts of both sides
"(Judge Posner) mentioned the skill and flexibility of the Department of Justice and Microsoft. But it was a process involving more than those two parties," said Bill Neukom, Senior Vice President Law & Corporate Affairs for Microsoft.

Bill Gates said: "ultimately, it became impossible to settle because the Department of Justice and the states were not working together. Between them, they appeared to be demanding either a break-up of our company or other extreme concessions that go far beyond the issues raised in the lawsuit."

States fire back

The attorneys general of states involved in the case rejected Microsoft's assertions that they were responsible for the breakdown of the talks.

"The differences between the states and the Department of Justice are minimal when compared to the divergence between our side and Microsoft," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Microsoft knew that the talks were going to fail last week, according to Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group that has supported the government's case.

"This was a calculated move by Microsoft," Mr Black said.

"(Microsoft) was telling people in Congress last week, before anything broke down, that when talks broke down that they should speak up and say how disappointed they were. They knew," Mr Black said.

The waiting game

With an adverse ruling almost assured, Microsoft had plenty of reason to settle the case.

But the company has promised to appeal against the case, and US Government lawyers know the case will not be settled under President Clinton's administration.

Republican presidential candidate George W Bush
George W Bush would be a more sympathetic president for Microsoft
Vice President Al Gore is supportive of the Justice Department's case, but Republican presidential candidate George W Bush has said that he opposes breaking up the company and would use his power of appointment to create a Justice Department more sympathetic to Microsoft.

Mr Black condemns Microsoft for playing the waiting game.

"Microsoft is attempting to use the political process to win in the courts," he said, adding, "they are trying to benefit from a changeover in the administration."

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02 Apr 00 | Business
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09 Feb 00 | Business
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