U.S. judge tells Google to work through Justice

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 26, 2007 3:05pm EDT

Google CEO Eric Schmidt attends a news conference in Paris, June 19, 2007. The federal judge overseeing Microsoft's antitrust compliance said on Tuesday that she will rely on the Justice Department and state attorneys general in deciding how to handle Google's concerns about Microsoft's Vista operating system. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Google CEO Eric Schmidt attends a news conference in Paris, June 19, 2007. The federal judge overseeing Microsoft's antitrust compliance said on Tuesday that she will rely on the Justice Department and state attorneys general in deciding how to handle Google's concerns about Microsoft's Vista operating system.

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal judge overseeing Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust settlement said on Tuesday she would leave it up to government lawyers to determine how best to handle Google Inc.'s concerns about Microsoft's Vista operating system.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said she would rely on advice from the Justice Department and state attorneys general on Google's complaint that Vista's computer search function puts other potential rivals at a disadvantage.

"I do rely on the plaintiffs as the representative of consumers," the judge said, referring to the government.

Kollar-Kotelly, overseeing the 2002 consent decree that settled the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, said Google "is not party (to) this case" and should take its concerns about Vista to the Justice Department and the states.

Lawyers for the Justice Department and states told the judge at the settlement oversight hearing that they were satisfied with the steps Microsoft had already agreed to take.

In an agreement announced last week, Microsoft promised it would build into Vista an option to let users select a default desktop search program for personal computers running Windows.

The agreement "represents from our standpoint a reasonable solution to Google's complaint," said Steve Houck, a lawyer representing some of the states.

Google said on Monday it wanted the judge to consider a request to extend the consent decree to make sure its concerns are addressed.

Google contends that even though Microsoft agreed to modify Vista, more action may be needed to give consumers a "truly unbiased choice" of desktop search functions.

Kollar-Kotelly said on Tuesday she would rule in the future on whether to consider Google's views on the matter.

The antitrust consent decree is scheduled to expire in November but some provisions have been extended for two years.

The Vista function, known as "Instant Search," allows Windows users to enter a search query and get a list of results from their hard drive that contain the search term.

Rick Rule, a lawyer representing Microsoft, told the judge the company believed its desktop search function was not a violation of the consent decree.

Rule said Microsoft agreed to make concessions because "We felt that it was good to try to come to a resolution."

After the hearing, Google senior policy counsel Alan Davidson said the company was glad that the government had responded to its concerns.

"We are pleased that the authorities have provided important oversight here, and hope they will closely monitor the implementation to ensure that consumers' interests are served," Davidson said.

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