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Bristol case: how MS escaped the guilty verdict

No 'relevant market,' no monopoly, so no case, said jury

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MS on Trial Bristol's antitrust claim against Microsoft appears to have foundered at the first hurdle, with the jury deciding that there was no "relevant market" for operating systems for either technical workstations or departmental servers. If there's no relevant market, then there's no monopoly, so there's no antitrust case to answer. A Bristol spokeswoman expressed puzzlement at the jury's conclusion here, "since this was not a point that was even contested by Microsoft." The key to the jury's decision, which effectively ruled out any need to consider the major antitrust action any further, and narrowed the case to deception under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (Microsoft was found guilty of these, and fined $1), was a verdict form they were given in order to help them reach a decision. The verdict form The form begins as follows: "1. Has Bristol proven that a relevant market exists for operating systems for technical workstations? "(If you answered 'Yes' proceed to Question 2. If you answered 'No', skip to Section II, which begins at Question 10.)" The same question is asked of the departmental server market, and as the jury answered no in both instances, that was the end of the matter. The balance of the debate in the jury room must therefore have been over the "deceptive act" that Microsoft was decided to have committed. It's not yet clear which of the numerous possible deceptions put forward in the evidence this applies to, or indeed whether the jury felt that it was all one big deception, but that the damage caused was negligible. Nevertheless, it seems that the jury was baffled by the definition of operating systems markets, and has come down in favour of the Microsoft argument that in business you play hardball, but that using all the ammunition you have to manoeuvre for position is OK, because everybody does it. Legally this is sustainable so long as no monopoly is proven, because it is the misuse of a monopoly that antitrust law hinges on. So although the Bristol verdict will undoubtedly have helped Microsoft's morale, it doesn't have any effect on the other outstanding antitrust actions. The major DoJ one still looks likely to go against Microsoft, and although the Caldera one hasn't even started yet, Caldera has already produced a lot of grisly evidence. ® Complete Register Trial coverage

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