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Bork Urges Action Against Microsoft

Software: Conservative jurist, now a lobbyist for Netscape, asserts 'clear attempt to monopolize.'

April 27, 1998|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, hired by a chief competitor to Microsoft Corp., cautioned Sunday that antitrust lawsuits by the Justice Department should be rare but that government action against Microsoft "is one of those rare cases."

"Their documents . . . display a clear intent to monopolize, to prevent any competition from springing up," Bork said. "And they have used a variety of restrictive practices to prevent that kind of competition."

Charles "Rick" Rule, a legal consultant to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, which makes the software used on most home computers, responded that recent claims against the company "don't stand up to scrutiny."

Bork, who appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," has been hired by Netscape Communications Corp. to lobby the Justice Department to file an antitrust case against Microsoft.

Netscape's Internet browser, used by an estimated 60% of people on the World Wide Web, is the biggest competitor of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. A browser is software that lets people view information on the Internet.

Bork, a former federal judge with a conservative reputation for opposing government intervention in the marketplace, cited what he described as restrictive agreements between Microsoft and Internet companies that limited how the latter could promote Netscape's browser.

"Only a knee-jerk conservative would say there's never a case for antitrust," said Bork. "A monopolization case ought to be a rare thing, and this is one of those rare cases."

Microsoft's Rule, also on CBS, called the contracts "very legitimate cross-marketing agreements . . . where we said, 'If we refer customers to you, you can't switch them to competitors.' "

But he noted that Microsoft, under intense scrutiny, had already announced changes in those contracts to make them less restrictive.

Bork said Justice lawyers have an antitrust case "cold" against Microsoft under the Sherman Act, but he was vague when he discussed possible solutions to diluting Microsoft's power in the marketplace. "I wouldn't say break up the company," he said. "They ought to ban these restrictive practices. Beyond that, you have a lot of thinking to do yet."

Microsoft, which is also under investigation by more than a dozen state attorneys general, is preparing to release its next version of its operating system, Windows 98, to computer makers in mid-May and to retailers June 25.

Rule said there are no plans to remove Internet Explorer in any way from Windows 98.

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