Statements by Microsoft Corporation and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over the weekend are fueling rumors that the two sides might reach a settlement rather than allow the antitrust case to proceed to a legal decision and eventual appeal. In fact, speculation is rampant in legal circles that Judge Jackson's strong wording in the findings of fact was designed specifically to get Microsoft to the bargaining table. The language in the findings makes it obvious that the legal implications are going to be severe.
"We would need a settlement that deals with the very findings that the court made in this case, a settlement that produces consumer choice, innovation and competition in the market," Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein said. "There are serious issues here about law enforcement and the antitrust laws. And, of course, if Microsoft were prepared to engage on those issues, we would be prepared as well."
Microsoft executives and the DOJ seem to agree on this one point: Settlement would be best.
"There's nothing we'd like more than to settle this case," said Microsoft COO Bob Herbold, echoing a public statement that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates made after the findings were released.
"Microsoft is committed to resolving this matter in a fair and responsible manner, while ensuring that the fundamental principles of consumer benefit and innovation are protected," Gates said in a statement. "At the heart of this case is whether a successful American company can continue to improve its products for the benefit of consumers."
Of course, Microsoft and the DOJ are still worlds away when it comes to a settlement. But the fact findings may have provided Microsoft with enough incentive to make it happen