States discuss Microsoft antitrust settlement

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With the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Microsoft Corp. having reached a settlement last week in their long-running antitrust battle, today the representatives of the 18 U.S. states that were part of the lawsuit but not the settlement met in U.S. District Court here to discuss signing on to the deal.

In the hearing, attorney for the states Brendan Sullivan told District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that one-third of the states have agreed to a revised version of the settlement, one-third are undecided, and one-third want to proceed with litigation. Sullivan did not specify which states fell into which category, although on Monday Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said he would not sign the settlement agreement proposed by the DOJ.

That agreement has since been modified by the group of states that have agreed to settle. Part of the deliberations among the states that went until dawn this morning included modifying the settlement agreed upon by Microsoft and the DOJ to the satisfaction of one-third of the states, Sullivan said. The DOJ received a copy of the revised settlement just one hour before this morning's hearing, according to department attorney Phil Beck, and upon cursory examination said the DOJ has no objection to its contents.

The revised agreement contains "clarifications and not substantive changes" to the settlement agreement, Beck said, and therefore the DOJ does not expect to object to it, although he added that the department would take time this morning to review it further.

Microsoft has agreed to the revised version of the settlement agreement, Sullivan said.

The next step today is for the 18 states to meet or have a conference call to see if additional discussion can persuade the undecided ones to agree to the settlement. They would then return to Kollar-Kotelly's courtroom at 2 p.m. ET.

Kollar-Kotelly approved this course of action.

The one-third of the states who have not agreed to the revised deal and therefore want to pursue litigation would consider settlement if Microsoft approached those proceedings in an open-minded manner, Sullivan said. These states could continue settlement discussions with Microsoft while also following the litigation schedule that Judge Kollar-Kotelly outlined last month, he proposed, which would place remedy hearings in the March time frame.

This proposal irked Microsoft attorney John Warden, who said Microsoft is tired of talking settlement.

"The issues have been beaten to death by people who are worn out," he said. "Microsoft sees no point in reopening points that have been beaten to death."

While Microsoft would not decline to hold such talks, Warden said the company is skeptical about embarking on another round of settlement negotiations that do not have a set deadline.

This story, "States discuss Microsoft antitrust settlement" was originally published by PCWorld.

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