A proposal submitted this week by Microsoft to settle antitrust
charges is woefully inadequate, officials from several offices suing the
world's largest software company said.
"The offer that Microsoft
has made thus far is not a substantial offer," said one official, who asked not to be named. "The states are still willing to receive a substantial offer from the company and are open to serious settlement discussions, but that hasn't happened yet."
The company's billionaire chairman, Bill Gates, is expected to visit Washington today as part of a previously
scheduled tour to promote his new book.
Separately, attorneys general from the 19 states suing Microsoft also are meeting in Washington today for their annual conference,
and they planned today to discuss the company's offer privately.
California Attorney General Bill
Lockyer called the proposal "a minimalist opening offer...that is far
from what anyone in our group would expect to be adequate," according to a
report by Bloomberg. The proposal, which was delivered to the Justice Department and Iowa Attorney
General Tom Miller, was discussed in a conference call among other
prosecutors Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.
A spokeswoman in the California AG's office said that Lockyer had not yet
seen the proposal and that his comments were based on a briefing he had
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
Details of the proposal came as Gates
reaffirmed his willingness to settle antitrust charges, as long as the
world's largest software maker 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 yesterday in an interview with Sir David Frost at an
investor conference in New York. "Even before they filed the lawsuit we had
a great desire to settle this thing."
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.
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 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
Jackson that both sides try to settle the case while it is in recess.