Gates Takes the Stand

Microsoft confirmed this weekend that late last week, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates underwent 2 days of deposition questioning related to the company's ongoing antitrust problems. In a meeting room at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, campus, Gates responded to queries about two private antitrust class-action lawsuits the company is facing in the wake of its guilty verdict in the wider, federally launched antitrust case. The cases Gates discussed are separate from the two antitrust suits that the federal government and 18 US states brought.

Lawyers representing class-action plaintiffs in California and other US states grilled Gates Thursday and Friday. The lawyers asked about Microsoft's monopoly of the PC OS market and its alleged monopoly of office productivity software. Each of the class-action suits is a consolidation of other suits brought because Microsoft overcharged consumers for Windows, as the original federal antitrust case proved. In the California cases, in particular, Microsoft could face heavy monetary damages--reportedly as much as $4 billion--because California is one of only a few US states that doesn't protect companies that don't sell products directly to consumers (Microsoft sells most Windows copies to consumers indirectly through PC makers). The California suits represent more than 13 million of that state's individuals, businesses, and governmental agencies.

The California class-action case will go to trial in April, and dozens of other Microsoft executives will be deposed before that time. But Gates isn't done answering questions yet: The world's richest man will also take the stand in Microsoft's defense at the antitrust remedy hearings beginning March 11. These hearings will seek to determine whether Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is overseeing Microsoft's antitrust case, will adopt any of the remedies the nine nonsettling states and District of Columbia have requested.

In these hearings, Gates will testify that Microsoft has nurtured the PC industry and that the states' strict remedies would irreparably harm the company. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will also testify at the hearings, but he'll testify about how the company is already complying with the proposed Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement, which the company signed off on late last year. Kollar-Kotelly will hold hearings beginning March 6 to determine the validity of that settlement. Needless to say, Microsoft will be busy legally defending itself in the coming weeks.

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