Some 222 years ago, 13 rebel
states, in what is today the United States, fought for independence from a seemingly
invincible global imperial power. This month, another 13 states appear to be rebelling
against a new kind of global imperial power, Microsoft.
In what seems to be a highly
questionable legal move, the attorney generals for the 13 states want to block Microsoft
from selling Windows 98 in their home states, following the expected filing of antitrust
lawsuits against the company in each state.
Can California, Texas, or any
other state turn back trucks loaded with Windows 98 or computers that have the software
pre-loaded onto their hard drives?
If there is any precedent for
such a move, it hasn’t come to my attention and I’ve been looking a real hard! Even if
they filed their lawsuits, the State Attorney Generals of the 13 rebels states will have
an uphill battle convincing the courts in their states to go alongwith the move. Likely,
most judges will not grant the states’ requests for an injunction against the product.
Injunctions are rarely granted because the plaintiff will have to show that the case
against a defendant is so air-tight, there is little doubt about the outcome.
In Microsoft’s case, there is
not only a heap of legitimate doubt to the argument that the company is actively seeking
to monopolize the market, but also the firm has such vast resources at its disposal that
it can put up defenses that are likely to overwhelm the individual state attorneys.
The analogy some of the
Attorney Generals are drawing to the $ 325 billion tobacco settlement they negotiated last
year is also questionable. Millions of people aren’t dying from the use of the Windows
operating system, with or without the Internet Explorer attached. And the states are not
footing billions of dollars in annual medical bills to care for sufferers of
Windows-related ailments. In other words, there really is no firm basis for the legal
actions planned by the individual states.
Or sure, some local companies
may find it hard to compete with Microsoft. But when you are locked up in a very small
room with a gorilla, chances are somebody is not going to feel comfortable. For the state
Attorney Generals to try to grand stand on behalf of the local industry is a bit far
More likely, some, if not a
majority of the state officers, are in it purely for their 15 minutes of media fame, which
they may hope will launch their careers into a higher political orbit.
As for the federal government,
should it decide to file a new antitrust lawsuit of its own, the case is likely to drag
well into the next millennium.
Don’t be surprised to see many
millions of Microsoft dollars end up in the campaign coffers of candidates for the year
2000 Presidential race. Candidates who will be friendly to the Microsoft cause and in
position to call off the Justice Department’s current relentless pursuit of the software