WASHINGTON – Maryland joined eight other states that signed on Tuesday to a proposed Justice Department settlement of its antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp.
“I strongly believe that if Microsoft lives up to the letter and spirit of the agreement, it will be a win for Maryland consumers, a win for innovation in the technology marketplace and our nation’s economy,” Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a prepared statement.
But nine other states and the District of Columbia balked Tuesday at the settlement and could continue to press the suit, with one opponent saying “litigation is better than surrender.”
“While the settlement proposals are a step forward, they fail to provide adequate remedies for Microsoft’s illegal use of its monopoly power to crush innovative technology,” said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer in a Tuesday conference call.
Lockyer said he could understand why states like Maryland decided to “tag along” with the Justice Department and sign the settlement. But he said the settlement was not strict enough.
“I would prefer to settle,” Lockyer said. “But litigation is better than surrender.”
If those states decide to continue litigation, any agreement they reach with Microsoft would amend the national agreement and “level the playing field” for all states, said Lockyer.
The Justice Department and Microsoft announced a settlement Friday that would impose conduct restrictions on the software giant to resolve an antitrust lawsuit filed in May 1998. It would create opportunities for other companies to develop software competitive with Microsoft’s products, including Internet browsers, e-mail systems, media players and instant-messaging software.
Microsoft would be required to disclose some programming codes, called application programming interfaces, to software developers so they could program their software to be compatible with Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The settlement would also prohibit Microsoft from retaliating against manufacturers that include software from other companies on computers that run on Windows.
To make sure the settlement provisions are enforced, the Justice Department would set up a panel of three independent, full-time computer experts at Microsoft who would have full access to all of the company’s books, records, systems and personnel. The provisions would be in effect for five years and could be extended for an additional two years if Microsoft violated the agreement.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said Friday that the “settlement goes further than we might have wanted,” but that settling was “the right thing to do to help the industry, and the economy, to move forward.”
The states that signed on to the settlement Tuesday negotiated over the weekend for some changes, including broader definitions of what software products are covered and creation of an enforcement committee, appointed by the states, to mirror the federal monitors.
In a prepared statement Tuesday, Microsoft welcomed the participation of those states that agreed to the settlement and expressed its hope that the rest would join in.
“We made every effort to reach a compromise to address the states’ concerns and allow everyone to move forward,” Gates said in the statement.
But Lockyer dismissed the changes that were negotiated over the weekend.
“It’s perhaps informative that the Microsoft spokesman characterized the changes last night as inconsequential,” Lockyer said. “That would be my view as well.”
He said he does not think the settlement provides enough time to correct Microsoft’s monopolistic business practices, because it could take up to a year before the company is required to do anything.
By signing on to the settlement, the states have started the clock on a 60-day public comment period. That will be followed by 30 days in which the parties to the suit can respond to public comments, before a federal judge can decide whether the settlement is in the public interest and should be entered as a consent decree.
The settlement came nearly two months after the Justice Department announced that it would not seek a breakup of Microsoft, which a federal ruled has maintained an illegal monopoly over PC-based operating systems.