The company is willing to settle its landmark antitrust trial as long as it's able to keep integrating features into its operating system software, he says.
Speaking at an investor conference in New York, Gates reiterated that Microsoft wants to settle the case as long as it can preserve its right to add new features to its Windows operating system.
"As long as we can keep those intact, we want to settle," Gates said in an interview with Sir David Frost at the conference. "Even before they filed the lawsuit we had a great desire to settle this thing."
Gates declined to comment on when talks with the government might begin.
Gates's comments came as officials from several states said they expect to receive a written proposal from Microsoft within days. The proposal would outline settlement terms to the sweeping antitrust action the Justice Department and 19 states filed last May.
"The states are expecting to see a proposal this week," an official from the Illinois Attorney General's Office said yesterday, declining further comment. CNET News.com first reported the comments yesterday.
An official from another state attorney general's office said Microsoft already had submitted a settlement proposal, but added that lawyers from that state had not yet reviewed it. Representatives from other states declined to comment publicly.
On Monday, Joel Klein, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said he had not received any proposal from Microsoft, but was open to discussing a settlement. Justice Department officials have declined further comment.
Microsoft, which recently reiterated its willingness to settle the four-and-a-half month trial, also declined to provide specifics.
"We're not going to make any comments whatsoever about any potential settlement conversations, should they occur," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray. "This process is only going to be successful if it can occur in a confidential manner."
Government prosecutors allege Microsoft is a monopolist that illegally harmed competitors in its attempt to maintain its Windows dominance and create a new monopoly for Internet software. Microsoft vigorously denies the charges. Some legal observers say Microsoft has made critical mistakes in defending itself in federal court in Washington.
The trial, which is now in recess, is scheduled to resume on April 12, but may be delayed further because of a drug conspiracy case being heard by the same judge presiding over Microsoft's trial.
Word of the imminent proposal comes as state prosecutors from across the nation meet in Washington for an annual meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. Among the attendees are a number of assistant attorneys general overseeing the joint action against Microsoft, some of whom are believed to be charged with reviewing the proposal.
Officials on both sides say they have always been open to settling the case. But it is unclear that either side's stance has changed since last May, when they entered into negotiations but failed to reach any agreement. Microsoft's insistence that it maintain its right to add new features to its products was a key stumbling block in the failed talks.
Antitrust officials, still skeptical of Microsoft's earlier attempt to settle the case, privately questioned Microsoft's most recent settlement overtures. They criticized Microsoft for talking to the press about a settlement before discussing the matter privately with them. Microsoft, meanwhile, says it is taking serious advice made by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that both sides try to settle the case while it is in recess.