Google on Monday called on a judge to extend part of the US government’s four-year antitrust scrutiny of Microsoft, intensifying a lobbying battle in which the arch-rivals have sought to limit each other’s power.
In an unusual legal manoeuvre, Google went over the heads of justice department and state regulators to appeal directly to a federal judge to impose greater restrictions on the software company. However, Microsoft’s lawyers claimed the approach was part of an untested procedure that fell outside the judge’s remit.
Google’s intervention follows Microsoft’s appeal to the Federal Trade Commission in April to block its rival’s planned purchase of advertising technology company DoubleClick.
Monday’s legal challenge concerns software that people use to find information stored on their PCs by typing a word or phrase into a search box. Such software, made by both Microsoft and Google as well as other companies, is expected to assume increasing importance as people store more of their personal information on the web as well as on their computers.
In a filing with a federal court in the district of Columbia on Monday, Google drew parallels between desktop search and other forms of “middleware” governed by the consent decree that resolved the US government’s antitrust case against the software company four years ago.
Under that landmark agreement, a US court is charged with overseeing Microsoft’s integration of this type of software with its Windows operating system. The arrangement is designed to prevent the sort of anti-
competitive behaviour by which Microsoft crushed the web browser company Netscape.
Google’s latest legal salvo comes a week after Microsoft appeared to have put the dispute over desktop search to rest. In a report to the court last week, US antitrust regulators said they were satisfied with changes Microsoft had proposed to its desktop search.
To keep the issue alive, Google has appealed directly to Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge charged with reviewing how regulators apply the consent decree. It is the first approach of its kind, and the first time the judge has been asked to intervene directly in the way the US settlement with Microsoft is enforced.
Ms Kollar-Kotelly is due to hold the latest of her regular biannual hearings into the Microsoft antitrust case on Tuesday morning.
“In theory, there’s certainly justification for the court to listen to complaints like the one from Google,” said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association of Competitive Technology, a group that has typically sided with Microsoft. However, he added that regulators had investigated Google’s complaint and he called its intervention now “a PR stunt”.
Microsoft said it had gone “the extra mile to resolve these issues in a spirit of compromise”, and added: “The government clearly showed it is satisfied with the changes we are making.”