U.S. Willing to Discuss Microsoft Settlement

Article excerpt

The head of the federal government's successful antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. said yesterday he is willing to discuss settling with the software giant to avoid a lengthy appeals process.

Meanwhile, the computer giant is seeking a stay both on splitting the company and on changes to its business practices. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered Wednesday that Microsoft be divided in two as punishment for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

"I have said and believe that settlement is always the preferred course in this kind of litigation," Assistant Attorney General Joel I. Klein said.

"It's in the interest of the industry, it's in the interest of the company and it's in the national interest to have Microsoft address, in a meaningful way, the competitive issues . . . rather than to have a protracted legal proceeding," said Mr. Klein, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Microsoft attorney William Neukom said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday the company would consider participating in settlement talks.

"I don't think we ever have or ever would close the door to good-faith negotiations to resolve differences," he said.

Mr. Klein did not say whether he would accept a settlement that fell short of breaking up the company.

If the two sides agree on settlement talks, it would be the second time they sat down to discuss an out-of-court deal.

Justice has not made a formal proposal to Microsoft to renew settlement talks, Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said.

Two weeks after ruling Microsoft was a monopoly, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson appointed Judge Richard Posner, head of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, to mediate an effort to settle the case.

But talks ended April 1 without an agreement.

Microsoft "has not indicated any positive sign of interest [in renewing settlement talks] since mediation ended," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who co-chaired the effort of states to negotiate a settlement.

Mr. Klein said yesterday new settlement talks must include discussion of preventing Microsoft from repeating the business practices that led Judge Jackson to find it guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

But Microsoft won't participate in any settlement talks that include discussion of breaking up the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

"It's clear from their remedy proposal that that's exactly what they would be interested in talking about. . . . They're looking for punitive relief," Mr. Cullinan said.

Exactly what would be on the table for discussion is not clear, Mr. …