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Top DoJ lawyer cautions on ‘draconian’ antitrust measures

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The US Department of Justice's assistant attorney general for antitrust has defended the 2002 consent decree mandating five-year oversight of Microsoft and urged US and European antitrust bodies to be cautious in fighting monopolistic behaviour.

According to Reuters, Thomas Barnett says that the remedy adopted by the DoJ against Microsoft – most of which expires next month – was "well-crafted" and "successful", despite it being challenged by some US states, notably California, which argue that Microsoft continues to abuse its dominant position in operating systems.
"The remedy was well-crafted and has been successful," Barnett told delegates at an international antitrust conference at Fordham Law School. He also cautioned about choosing overly draconian remedies for monopolistic conduct, quoting Hippocrates' admonition to doctors to, above all, do no harm.
"Consider that markets change in ways that could not be predicted," Barnett says. "Many formerly big, powerful firms are struggling."
The states objecting to the remedy, says Reuters,  want portions of the decree to be extended to 2012, arguing that Microsoft has failed to live up to the agreement. Some portions have already been extended to 2009.
Under the settlement with the DoJ, Microsoft was required to create a Microsoft Communications Protocol Program. This programme is designed to give other software companies access to protocols that allow servers running non-Microsoft software to operate with the Windows desktop operating system.
The state attorneys general argue that this has not happened. This portion of the agreement is to expire in 2009, and Microsoft has said it is premature to extend it further.
Barnett was one of the first to criticise the recent decision by Europe's second-highest court to affirm a 2004 European Commission ruling that Microsoft abused its overwhelming market position to crush competitors, upholding a Euro497-million fine.
Hours after the decision, he issued a news release accusing the European court of "chilling innovation and discouraging competition" with its 248-page decision.
European Competition Chief, Neelie Kroes shot back by saying it was unacceptable for the US administration to criticise an independent court outside its jurisdiction.