The judge tasked with brokering a settlement in the antitrust suit brought by the US government against Microsoft has given up.
Chief Judge Richard Posner declared on Saturday that talks had reached an impasse. He was originally asked to try and help the parties reach a settlement by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who set the scene for some remedy against Microsoft with a damning findings of fact after hearing arguments last year in the antitrust case.
"Since my acceptance of this assignment on November 19 of last year, I have endeavored to find common ground that might enable the parties to settle their differences without further litigation. Unfortunately, the quest has proved fruitless.
"After more than four months, it is apparent that the disagreements among the parties concerning the likely course, outcome, and consequences of continued litigation, as well as the implications and ramifications of alternative terms of settlement, are too deep-seated to be bridged."
Although Judge Posner was at pains to emphasise that the collapse of the mediation "is not due to any lack of skill, flexibility, energy, determination, or professionalism on the part of the Department of Justice and Microsoft Corporation," Microsoft has been quick to portray itself as a reasonable negotiator.
In a new statement, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says he and company executives worked for the last four months in an attempt to achieve "a fair and reasonable settlement" of the antitrust case.
"We went the extra mile to resolve this case, but the government would not agree to a fair and reasonable settlement that would have resolved this case in the best interests of consumers and the industry," Gates says.
Gates says he personally devoted hundreds of hours to the settlement process. He also said that the Microsoft mediation team, composed of senior executives and lawyers, had devoted more than 3000 hours to the settlement effort over four months of intense negotiations.
“Obviously, we are not going to discuss the confidential mediation process,” says Gates. “But I can say that Microsoft offered significant concessions in the interest of ending this case. Ultimately, it became impossible to settle because the Department of Justice and the states were not working together. Between them, they appeared to be demanding either a breakup of our company or other extreme concessions that go far beyond the issues raised in the lawsuit."
Microsoft has made a copy of Judge Posner's announcement available on its Web site.