Microsoft judge says oversight process at "much better place"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The judge overseeing Microsoft’s antitrust settlement extended her monitoring of the software giant by 18 months on Wednesday, while noting the oversight was at a “much better place” than a few months ago.

A sign hangs at the Microsoft booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Microsoft, the U.S. Justice Department and states involved in the settlement had previously agreed that some portions of federal antitrust oversight should be extended by 18 months, to May 12, 2011.

“I will go forward and sign the proposed order,” said Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly during a hearing of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, adding “I would agree that we’re in a different and much better place” than when she signed the last extension.

Microsoft settled U.S. antitrust charges in 2002 that it abused its dominance of the market for personal computer operating systems. Court oversight had been scheduled to end on November 12.

The Justice Department and states involved in the antitrust suit said that the May 2011 deadline may give them enough time to assess whether Microsoft had removed all the errors from the technical information it is required to give potential licensees who write programs for Microsoft’s Windows.

Microsoft was required to issue licenses for companies that want to write programs for the Windows operating system. It was also required to provide technical information about Windows to help make the programs work.

Once the technical documentation nears completion, Microsoft will be able to charge a small royalty on the patented portions of the documentation, about 0.3 percent of the products sold. That may happen by the end of the year.

The 2002 consent decree covers the company’s ties to computer makers, how its software works with other types of software, and enforcement to ensure it does not repeat past practices.

The next status hearing is set for August 5, with a joint status report due on July 31.

Microsoft has also been tangling with EU authorities, and the U.S. company has been fined in Europe several times for allegations that it abused its 95 percent dominance of personal computer systems through its ubiquitous Windows software.

The EU fined the U.S. software company a record 899 million euros last year for discouraging software competition, the biggest ever imposed on a corporation at the time.

U.S. v Microsoft, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 98-1232

Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Matthew Lewis