DoJ, Microsoft Extend Antitrust Deal

UPDATED: The Department of Justice (DoJ) and Microsoft have agreed to a two-year extension of the communications protocol licensing program portion of Microsoft’s final antitrust settlement with the government.

The DoJ Friday told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the Microsoft trial, the extension is necessary due to Microsoft’s difficulty in improving the technical documentation it provides to licensees.

In its filing with the court, the DoJ said the extension request is not a result of any belief that Microsoft has willfully violated the final judgment.

The original final judgment is set to expire next year. If Kollar-Kotelly approves the extension, the final judgment would expire in late 2009.

“This extension will ensure that companies interested in licensing the communications protocols receive the benefit of complete and accurate documentation for the full period of time provided by the court’s final judgment,” J. Bruce McDonald, deputy assistant attorney general in the DoJ’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

Seperately, a Joint Status Report from the DOJ said it had looked into a complaint by Google about Internet Explorer defaulting to MSN for search, but sided with Microsoft in this case. The DOJ said it had determined that hardware OEMs have the option under the Vista OEM license agreement to change the default search engine from MSN and that users can easily change the default search as well.

“As Microsoft’s implementation of the search feature respects users’ and OEM’s default choices and is easily changed, Plaintiffs have concluded their work on this matter,” the DOJ wrote.

Microsoft has also agreed that the DoJ and state antitrust agencies may apply for another three-year extension of the final settlement in 2009.

The final judgment of the landmark 2002 settlement requires Microsoft to make available to rival software developers — on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms — certain technology Microsoft uses to make its servers interoperate with client PCs running Windows.

The settlement dictates that Microsoft must provide licensees with technical documentation to allow competitors to use the technology in their own server products.

In previous status reports to the court, the DoJ has complained about the quality of the technical documentation provided by Microsoft and the length of time it is taking Redmond to improve the documentation.

Microsoft agreed that a broader “reset” of its efforts to improve documentation would be a more efficient and effective method to resolve the problem than the current approach.

Defending itself from antitrust allegations has become almost a second business for the Redmond, Wash., software giant.

Microsoft is embroiled in a battle with the European Union, which claims the vendor is conducting unfair business practices by impeding interoperability between competing server technologies.

Updated to include information on dismissmal of Google’s complaint. Additional reporting by Andy Patrizio.

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