Attorneys general from more than half of the US states have now joined the US Department of Justice in its case against Microsoft, filing a brief in federal court asking that a district court ruling against the software giant be upheld.
Twenty-seven state attorneys general signed on to the friend-of-the-court brief filed, asking that it uphold Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's Dec. 11 injunction against Microsoft that ordered it to unbundle the Internet Explorer Web browser from the Windows 95 operating system; Microsoft has appealed that injunction. Previously, attorneys general of at least 10 states had initiated investigations of Microsoft for anticompetitive business practices.
"The case is one of extraordinary importance for the public interest," said Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, one of the states joining in the brief. Though perhaps not unprecedented, the joint filing of a brief in a federal case by 27 states "certainly isn't a run-of-the-mill, common occurrence," he said.
"Microsoft is stifling competition in clear violation of the law and plainly contrary to consumer interests," Blumenthal said earlier in a public statement.
Blumenthal explained to the IDG News Service that his office had received "a variety of complaints from manufacturers, consumers ... and retailers, and that certainly raised the level of our interest."
Blumenthal, like other state attorneys general joining the brief, is conducting an ongoing investigation into Microsoft's licensing practices. Blumenthal declined to speculate whether the state attorneys general would file a common lawsuit at the federal level. Connecticut is issuing requests for documents from a variety of manufacturers, retailers and consumers Blumenthal said, though he declined to be more specific.
Not all 27 states who signed today's brief are conducting ongoing investigations, he noted.
Eleven states have reported or have been reported to be conducting ongoing investigations of Microsoft antitrust issues, including Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Florida.
"We support ... the Department of Justice's ongoing investigation into the bundling of Microsoft's Web browser to its seemingly ubiquitous Windows 95 software," said Dennis Vacco, New York's attorney general, in a statement today.
In their brief today, the attorneys general from 27 states argued that the competitive health of the computer industry is threatened by the anticompetitive conduct Microsoft is pursuing.
"Microsoft now seeks to condition its licenses of Windows 95 operating system software to PC
manufacturers on such manufacturers' agreement to also license Microsoft's web browser product,
Internet Explorer," said the brief in part. "Such conditioning could effectively foreclose both PC
manufacturers and consumers from choosing a competing web browser product and might enable
Microsoft to use its dominance in operating system software to deny a potential competitor a 'fair market
test,' " the brief stated.
Microsoft had no immediate comment on the joint filing, since company officials had not yet seen the brief, according to a company spokeswoman.
The attorneys general filing the brief are from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
For a copy of the brief, see http://www.oag.state.ny.us/.