Microsoft Wins Point in Netscape Antitrust Battle

Just days after the company was handed a resounding legal victory by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Microsoft got another reprieve when a Baltimore judge ruled that Netscape cannot hold the software giant liable for destroying its Web browser business. US District Judge J. Frederick Motz is presiding over a number of private lawsuits that arose in the wake of Microsoft's federal case, and one of the criteria before him concerns whether the new suits could use the Findings of Fact from the federal case. A California court has already ruled that most of the Findings of Fact do apply to private lawsuits in that state, making it easier for plaintiffs there to seek monetary damages from the convicted monopolist. And while Motz also approved a number of the facts from the Findings of Fact in Netscape's lawsuit, he withheld a key ruling that might have greatly helped the company.

"It cannot be fairly said the facts found in the government case are sufficient to establish Microsoft's liability to Netscape," Motz wrote in an eight-page opinion issued Monday. Instead, because the government's case against Microsoft focused on the company's "harm to the structure of the market," Netscape must still prove that Microsoft's illegal behavior hurt its browser business. Naturally, this will result in a longer trial than if Netscape could simply present the relevant Findings of Fact from the federal trial as fact.

However, Motz did rule that 395 other factual findings upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year could be used in the case. These facts include information about how Microsoft sought to illegally exclude Netscape and other competitors from the software market in a bid to maintain its monopoly Windows operating system. Motz said that Microsoft could challenge these facts one last time, but noted that all of them appear to have been upheld by the appellate court. Microsoft says that Netscape lost its browser market share because of its own mistakes, not because Microsoft did anything to harm the company.

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