Microsoft US antitrust deal set to lapse in days

Microsoft's decade-long antitrust settlement with the American government is just days from expiring, after the Department of Justice and a number of US states yesterday raised no objection before a Washington DC court.

The deal is now set to expire on 12th May, 2011.

Imposed on the software giant in 2001, the antitrust agreement followed allegations that the company had acted anti-competitively, favouring its own Internet Explorer web browser over other software by making it integral to its Windows operating system.

The DoJ deal required Microsoft to make it easier for third parties to create web browser software for the OS by sharing details of application programming interfaces (APIs) and other key technical information with rival developers.

Critics at the time attacked the settlement for allowing Microsoft to simply 'hide' IE, rather than allowing users to completely remove it.

Originally scheduled to lapse in 2007, the agreement has twice been lengthened. In 2006, elements of the deal were extended until 2009. A second extension postponed the settlement's expiry until 2011.

Attorneys for the DoJ yesterday told District Court judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly they believed Microsoft has met the terms of the settlement.

With objections shelved, Microsoft has cleared the last significant hurdle to getting the restrictions lifted.

"We are pleased with today's hearing," the company said in a statement. "As was noted by the Court and the plaintiffs, we are on track for the Final Judgments to expire on May 12.".

But with the end of its probation in sight, there are already signs that the monopolist hasn't changed its ways. In a 50-page response to a law suit alleging that its Nook e-book reader patent infringed a number of Microsoft patents, US bookseller Barnes & Noble accused the software giant of wrongfully exploiting US patent law for anti-competitive puposes, stating:

"Microsoft is misusing these patents as part of a scheme to try to eliminate or marginalize the competition to its own Windows Phone 7 mobile device operating system posed by the open source Android operating system and other open source operating systems."

Back then the fight was over a desktop OS. In 2011, armed with a much-improved knowledge of US antitrust law the Sherman Act, Microsoft is set to do battle over mobile - and is trying to use the law to its advantage.

Plus ça change, as they say in the software business, plus ça change...