Microsoft U.S. consent decree extended two more years

A federal judge prolongs court oversight of the software maker for a further two years. Microsoft had said an extension was unnecessary, while some states wanted Microsoft watched for another five years.

Microsoft will have to put up with another two years of court antitrust oversight, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

In her ruling, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly cited the length of time it has taken Microsoft to get its protocol licensing program up and running as the primary reason she is extending the consent decree, which was due to expire at the end of last year.

"The court's decision in this matter is based upon the extreme and unforeseen delay in the availability of complete, accurate, and useable technical documentation relating to the communications protocols," Kollar-Kotelly said. "The court concludes that the moving states have met their burden of establishing that this delay constitutes changed circumstances, which have prevented the final judgments from achieving their principal objectives."

She did say that she did not intend her ruling as a rebuke of the software maker.

"The court's extension should not be viewed as a sanction against Microsoft, but rather as a means to allow the respective provisions of the final judgments the opportunity to operate together towards maximizing (their) procompetitive potential," she said in the ruling.

In a statement, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said the company would accept the ruling.

"We will continue to comply fully with the consent decree," Smith said, going on to find comfort in some of the judge's words. "We are gratified that the court recognized our extensive efforts to work cooperatively with the large number of government agencies involved. We built Windows Vista in compliance with these rules, and we will continue to adhere to the decree's requirements."

Kollar-Kotelly also said that the decision to extend the ruling for only two years does not mean the decree could not be again extended.

"Ultimately, the court's decision not to extend the final judgments beyond November 12, 2009 now does not foreclose the possibility of doing so in the future," she said, adding that mechanisms are in place to allow the consent decree to be extended if the protocol licensing program does not achieve its stated aims.

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