First MS-DoJ settlement talks fail to leak

But any day now, somebody's going to find spinning irresistible...

MS on Trial The settlement talks between Microsoft and the DoJ/states proved to be a great disappointment to the assembled TV crews outside the DoJ offices last night. Outcome: nothing. The meeting lasted for two hours, with Microsoft being represented by Bill Neukom (head lawyer for Microsoft), Richard Urowsky for Sullivan & Cromwell (the principal outside lawyers for the trial, although Urowsky has not done much publicly during the trial so far), and Charles 'Rick' Rule, a legal consultant to Microsoft, whose association with Microsoft is often not stressed when his opinion is canvassed. In the other corner were Joel Klein (DoJ head of antitrust), David Boies (special trial counsel), together with Iowa attorney general Tom Miller and Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal. The meeting had been arranged largely in response to a hint from Judge Jackson that both sides should use the recess wisely. There is a scheduled status hearing today at 9.30am in Washington, when it is expected that a date for resumption of the trial will be announced. A number of other administrative matters will probably also be dealt with at the same time. The court has done its best to stick to The Register's timetable, but Judge Jackson's intervening criminal case looks as though it is going to last longer than anticipated, so resumption in May is now more likely. Although more serious negotiations between the sides is likely to occur (especially as the lawyers are paid by the hour), it is unlikely that much will leak out from talks in view of the trial being in progress. Certainly, nobody said anything yesterday after the talks. Last time there were talks between the two sides -- in May, before the DoJ launched the action -- there was a bad start because the Microsoft team ended up in the offices of its principal external lawyers, Sullivan & Cromwell, instead of at the DoJ main conference room. This time, the Microsoft team turned up caps-in-hand at the DoJ. The ghost of the 12-year IBM antitrust case still stalks the DoJ corridors: there were some 700 days in court, at very great expense, before the case was abandoned, largely because the issues were no longer relevant. Consequently, the DoJ does not relish the prospect of another hideously long and expensive antitrust case against a company that is probably the most obdurate legal foe in America. Nevertheless, the DoJ is unlikely to compromise this time. Microsoft will above all try to drag the case on for as long as possible, also hoping that non-relevance of the issues will bring the case to an end without an adverse decision. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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