As we wait for U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to announce his factual findings in the Microsoft antitrust case, it seems almost peculiar that Microsoft could be viewed as a monopoly. The whole concept of antitrust laws applying to Internet companies seems almost silly now that a year has passed in the Justice Department’s case.
A year is a long period in Internet time, which by conservative estimates is four times the speed of traditional industry. Last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Kline said that the fast pace of the Microsoft trial “demonstrates that both the Department of Justice and the court system can move in Internet time.”
They pat themselves on the back, but that’s just because it took over ten years to conclude the IBM antitrust case. In reality, the technology market has shifted so dramatically during the past year, Microsoft is scrambling to stay in the game at all.
We don’t see Microsoft leading hapless consumers into daring new markets dominated by Redmond, Washington executives. We see Microsoft dashing to grab a small piece of new markets before they move irretrievably out of the software giant’s grasp.
Microsoft Morphing Into Aggressive Follower
Microsoft valiantly chases new technology markets, from broadband Internet access to wireless devices to voice interactivity software. Rather than behaving like a monopoly, Microsoft looks like Chrysler chasing Toyota in the early eighties. Just envision Ma Bell in the seventies setting its own price and service mix, and you’ll know what I mean.
Monopolies don’t jump from bandwagon to bandwagon, hedging all technological bets. Linux alone will end the question of monopoly. Just because Microsoft had some very heady years in the early nineties, it doesn’t mean that consumers are getting the short shrift.
The company may act like a bully sometimes, but experts in the industry can see that Microsoft is surrounded by entrepreneurial start-up wizards who are managing to notch tiny cuts in the corporation’s skin. As we watch Microsoft cut deals worldwide, it looks like a worried whale trying to catch up with daring young sharks.
Patents Are the Point
The truly compelling legal questions in the Internet industry revolve around patents and copyrights. The Amazon and priceline suits will have a significant impact upon the technology industry. These two cases, plus dozens more that will come in the next few months and years, will determine the winners and losers in this industry.
By comparison, Microsoft’s antitrust case is a sideshow, an annoyance that distracts from the more fundamental issue of who can own what in a world where intellectual property has become the new worldwide gold standard.