United States v. Microsoft Trial
United States v. Microsoft was a set of consolidated civil actions filed against Microsoft Corporation pursuant to the Sherman Antitrust Act on May 18, 1998 by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and 20 U.S. states.
Joel I. Klein was the lead prosecutor. The plaintiffs alleged that Microsoft abused monopoly power on Intel-based personal computers in its handling of operating system sales and web browser sales. The issue central to the case was whether Microsoft was allowed to bundle its flagship Internet Explorer (IE) web browser software with its Microsoft Windows operating system. Bundling them together is alleged to have been responsible for Microsoft's victory in the browser wars as every Windows user had a copy of Internet Explorer. It was further alleged that this unfairly restricted the market for competing web browsers (such as Netscape Navigator or Opera) that were slow to download over a modem or had to be purchased at a store. Underlying these disputes were questions over whether Microsoft altered or manipulated its application programming interfaces (APIs) to favor Internet Explorer over third party web browsers, Microsoft's conduct in forming restrictive licensing agreements with original equipment manufacturer (OEMs), and Microsoft's intent in its course of conduct.
Microsoft stated that the merging of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer was the result of innovation and competition, that the two were now the same product and were inextricably linked together and that consumers were now getting all the benefits of IE for free. Those who opposed Microsoft's position countered that the browser was still a distinct and separate product which did not need to be tied to the operating system, since a separate version of Internet Explorer was available for Mac OS. They also asserted that IE was not really free because its development and marketing costs may have kept the price of Windows higher than it might otherwise have been. The case was tried before Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The DOJ was initially represented by David Boies.
The United States of America government's interest in Microsoft's affairs had begun in 1991 with an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission over whether Microsoft was abusing its monopoly on the PC operating system market. The commissioners deadlocked with a 2-2 vote in 1993 and closed the investigation, but the Department of Justice opened its own investigation on August 21 of that year, resulting in a settlement on July 15, 1994 in which Microsoft consented not to tie other Microsoft products to the sale of Windows but remained free to integrate additional features into the operating system. In the years that followed, Microsoft insisted that Internet Explorer (which first appeared in the Plus! Pack sold separately from Windows 95) was not a product but a feature which it was allowed to add to Windows, although the DOJ did not agree with this definition.
The trial started on May 18, 1998 with the U.S. Justice Department and the Attorneys General of twenty U.S. states suing Microsoft for illegally thwarting competition in order to protect and extend its software monopoly. Later, in October the US Justice Department also sued Microsoft for violating a 1994 consent decree by forcing computer makers to include its Internet browser as a part of the installation of Windows software. During the antitrust case it was revealed that Microsoft had threatened PC manufacturers with revoking their license to distribute Windows if they removed the Internet Explorer icon from the initial desktop, something that Netscape had requested of its licensees.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was called "evasive and nonresponsive" by a source present at a session in which Gates was questioned on his deposition. He argued over the definitions of words such as "compete", "concerned", "ask", and "we". BusinessWeek reported, "Early rounds of his deposition show him offering obfuscatory answers and saying 'I don't recall' so many times that even the presiding judge had to chuckle. Worse, many of the technology chief's denials and pleas of ignorance have been directly refuted by prosecutors with snippets of E-mail Gates both sent and received." Intel Vice-President Steven McGeady, called as a witness, quoted Paul Maritz, a senior Microsoft vice president as having stated an intention to "extinguish" and "smother" rival Netscape Communications Corporation and to "cut off Netscape's air supply" by giving away a clone of Netscape's flagship product for free. The Microsoft executive denied the allegations.
A number of videotapes were submitted as evidence by Microsoft during the trial, including one that demonstrated that removing Internet Explorer from Microsoft Windows caused slowdowns and malfunctions in Windows. In the videotaped demonstration of what Microsoft vice president James Allchin's stated to be a seamless segment filmed on one PC, the plaintiff noticed that some icons mysteriously disappear and reappear on the PC's desktop, suggesting that the effects might have been falsified. Allchin admitted that the blame for the tape problems lay with some of his staff "They ended up filming it -- grabbing the wrong screen shot," he said of the incident. Later, Allchin re-ran the demonstration and provided a new videotape, but in so doing Microsoft dropped the claim that Windows is slowed down when Internet Explorer is removed. Mark Murray, a Microsoft spokesperson, berated the government attorneys for "nitpicking on issues like video production." Microsoft submitted a second inaccurate videotape into evidence later the same month as the first. The issue in question was how easy or hard it was for America Online users to download and install Netscape Navigator onto a Windows PC. Microsoft's videotape showed the process as being quick and easy, resulting in the Netscape icon appearing on the user's desktop. The government produced its own videotape of the same process, revealing that Microsoft's videotape had conveniently removed a long and complex part of the procedure and that the Netscape icon was not placed on the desktop, requiring a user to search for it. Brad Chase, a Microsoft vice president, verified the government's tape and conceded that Microsoft's own tape was falsified.
When the judge ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows which did not include Internet Explorer, Microsoft responded that the company would offer manufacturers a choice: one version of Windows that was obsolete, or another that did not work properly. The judge asked, "It seemed absolutely clear to you that I entered an order that required that you distribute a product that would not work?" David D. Cole, a Microsoft vice president, replied, "In plain English, yes. We followed that order. It wasn't my place to consider the consequences of that."
Microsoft vigorously defended itself in the public arena, arguing that its attempts to "innovate" were under attack by rival companies jealous at its success, and that government litigation was merely their pawn (see public choice theory). A full-page ad run in The Washington Post and The New York Times on June 2, 1999 by The Independent Institute delivered "An Open Letter to President Clinton From 240 Economists On Antitrust Protectionism." It said, in part, "Consumers did not ask for these antitrust actions - rival business firms did. Consumers of high technology have enjoyed falling prices, expanding outputs, and a breathtaking array of new products and innovations...Increasingly, however, some firms have sought to handicap their rivals by turning to government for protection. Many of these cases are based on speculation about some vaguely specified consumer harm in some unspecified future, and many of the proposed interventions will weaken successful U.S. firms and impede their competitiveness abroad."
Judge Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft's dominance of the Intel-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Notes, Real Networks, Linux, and others. Then on April 3, 2000, he issued a two-part ruling: his conclusions of law were that Microsoft had committed monopolization, attempted monopolization, and tying in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, and his remedy was that Microsoft must be broken into two separate units, one to produce the operating system, and one to produce other software components.
The trial was also notable for the use by both the prosecution and the defense of professors of MIT to serve as expert witnesses to bolster their cases. Richard L. Schmalensee, a noted economist and the dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, testified as an expert witness in favor of Microsoft. Franklin Fisher, another MIT economist who was Schmalensee's former doctoral thesis adviser, testified in favor of the Department of Justice.
On May 18, 1998, the United States filed a civil complaint alleging that Microsoft had
engaged in anticompetitive conduct in violation of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1,2. On that same date, a group of state plaintiffs filed a separate civil complaint alleging similar violations of federal law, as well as violations of the corresponding provisions of their various
state laws. Not long after filing, the two cases were consolidated and thereafter, proceeded jointly through discovery and a trial on the merits. On November 5, 1999, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson entered 412 findings of fact, United States v. Microsoft Corp., 84 F. Supp. 2d 9 (D.D.C.
1999) (hereinafter cited as “Findings of Fact”), and on April 3, 2000, Judge Jackson entered conclusions of law, finding Microsoft liable for violations of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and the corresponding state law provisions, United States v. Microsoft Corp., 87 F. Supp. 2d 30 (D.D.C. 2000). On June 7, 2000, Judge Jackson entered final judgment in the consolidated cases and imposed a structural remedy of divestiture for Microsoft’s violations of the Sherman Act. United States v. Microsoft Corp., 97 F. Supp. 2d 59 (D.D.C. 2000).