More antitrust suits for Microsoft?

The Justice Department and up to a dozen states are considering filing antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft next week, a source says.

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In what could be a coordinated affront on Microsoft, the Justice Department and up to a dozen states are considering filing antitrust lawsuits on the same day early next week, a person close to one investigation said today.

The state and federal actions--which still need approval by the heads of each office--would be filed separately, said the source, who asked not to be named. But they likely would be coordinated, the source added. For instance, they are likely to be filed in Washington, they will take aim at similar business practices, and attorneys are likely to work together in gathering evidence including the taking of depositions.

The states' lawsuit is likely to seek an injunction forbidding Microsoft from tying its Internet Explorer browser to the Windows 98 operating system, which will be shipped to vendors in the next few weeks. It was unclear whether the federal government will seek the same injunction. A federal appeals court in Washington is considering whether a similar injunction covering Windows 95 meets legal and procedural requirements.

As previously reported, 11 states have been exchanging draft complaints they might file against Microsoft: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. In recent days, West Virginia also has been added to the list. A spokeswoman for the West Virginia attorney general's office declined to comment, citing state laws requiring investigations to remain confidential.

Reuters is reporting a similar story concerning a coordinated effort between state and federal regulators.

Although the states are considering filing a relatively narrow suit for now, the source said any suit filed could be amended to make new allegations and seek new injunctive relief. Possible targets include development and marketing of Windows NT and Java, the source added.

In February, representatives from the Justice Department and a dozen states met in San Francisco to discuss the possibility of pooling resources or coordinating actions. A month later, 27 states filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the high-profile action the federal government brought against Microsoft last October.

The Justice Department has consistently declined to comment on what actions it might take against Microsoft. Representatives from Microsoft have vigorously denied any wrongdoing and say they are sure that regulators will agree once they have reviewed all the facts.