Will Microsoft’s Win Help Its Antitrust Case?

A decisive court victory last week for Bill Gates and company may — or may not — affect the outcome of Microsoft’s government antitrust case, so argue legal pundits. But for the cynics of the world, there’s little doubt but that it will.

After deliberating three days, a four-woman, four-man jury ruled in favor of Microsoft Corp. on all but one count of a complaint made by Bristol Technologies, Inc. The jury ordered the world’s largest software company to ante up only $1.00 (US$) for violating Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law. But it dismissed the other charges made by the Danbury, Connecticut company.

Not guilty

During the six-week trial, Bristol claimed that Microsoft denied the tiny software maker access to its NT computer code in order to drive it out of business. Microsoft flatly denied the allegations, saying that Bristol never made an effort to negotiate for the code — but instead opted to sue as a means of funding its business at Microsoft’s expense.

Bristol lawyers didn’t ask the jury to award it a specific amount of money; however, in closing arguments they suggested an amount in the range of $130 million to $263 million. This, Bristol’s lawyers argued, represented the estimated amount of monetary damage done to software maker by Microsoft.

But after the dust had settled, friends of Bill began to predict the not guilty verdict would definitely help bring a positive resolution to the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft. At the same time, Gates-haters insisted the Bristol case would have no effect at all.

In the federal suit,the Justice Department and 19 states contend that Microsoft illegally forged a monopoly by using the dominance of the Windows operating system to expand into Internet browsers — deliberately crushing competition like Netscape, which is now part of America Online.

The day of reckoning

Microsoft’s fate still rests in the hands of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who will make his ruling sometime later this year when the final phase of the trial resumes. Throughout the trial he has not given any indication that he’s particularly sympathetic to Microsoft’s argument that it was merely acting like any aggressive company would in a free market — but no way monopolistic. Yet, it would be naive to think the judge could simply ignore the outcome of the Bristol case.

Furthermore, it is inconceivable that Microsoft — the first company even to reach a worth of more than half a trillion dollars — will somehow end up being chopped into little pieces, regulated by a thousand bureaucrats. No, I think this thought is as unrealistic as believing Bill Gates — the richest man in the world — will somehow end up like Humpty Dumpty.

In the real world, the Bristol case shouts out a message loud and clear: don’t look for much more than a hand slap for Microsoft when everything is finally said and done.

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