Microsoft ruling may give private suits ammunition

Microsoft and attorneys for competitors and consumers suing the software giant have given differing interpretations of a ruling...

Microsoft and attorneys for competitors and consumers suing the software giant have given differing interpretations of a ruling in a group of private antitrust cases brought against the company.

Judge Frederick Motz yesterday ruled that 395 findings of fact made against Microsoft in 1999 could be used in the cases. However, he gave Microsoft one last chance to convince him to leave out or modify some of those findings. Microsoft would have to file a brief by 20 November to make that argument.

Antitrust suits by Sun, Netscape and other vendors, along with more than 100 consumer class-action antitrust suits, have been brought together before Judge Motz.

The findings of fact were among those that Judge Thomas Jackson issued against Microsoft in 1999 involving anti-competitive behavior. Jackson found that Microsoft had a monopoly in the PC operating systems market and that the company would use its market power to stifle competitors.

Motz's decision means Microsoft cannot contest the inclusion of those findings, unless the company can convince him otherwise, said Stanley Chesley, an attorney at Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, and co-chair of the consumers' case.

"If and when we go to trial, we can rely on these findings of fact, unless the judge reverses himself based on this brief that they are entitled to file." Chesley said. "This will cut the time required to try this case by at least half to two-thirds," he added.

However, Microsoft said Motz was allowing it to contest the use of the findings.

After Jackson gave his findings, the case against Microsoft was narrowed [by the court of appeals], said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler.

"The process allows Microsoft to contest certain findings of fact that are no longer applicable, given that the court of appeals drastically narrowed the liability against the company," he said.

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