Microsoft and US sue for return of antitrust documents

The software maker, the US government and nine US states have asked a court to force consultants to return confidential materials used to make sure Microsoft was holding to its settlement deal

Microsoft, the US government and nine states have gone to court to demand the return of confidential material from two consultants who advised on the enforcement of an antitrust ruling against the software maker.

The unnamed consultants worked for the Technical Committee (TC) set up in 2002 to make sure Microsoft was complying with the terms of its antitrust settlement with the US Department of Justice and 20 states. That settlement deal expired on 12 May this year, and the consultants were supposed to return the material, but did not.

In papers filed with the court on Thursday (PDF), both the plaintiffs and the defendants of the decade-old antitrust case urged the court to protect the confidentiality of Technical Committee and enforcement materials, which include confidential Microsoft documents.

The filing asked the court to require "all members of the TC and all consultants or staff hired by the TC to return all materials relating to the TC to the United States within three business days of the court's order".

The states of New York, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, collectively known as the 'New York Group', are named as plaintiffs.

A note in the filing explained that the day before the final settlement was due to expire, the consultants told the Technical Committee management that they would not return all the material relating to their work for the committee.

The US government and the nine states tried to get the materials back but failed, leading them and Microsoft to file the motion on Thursday.

The antitrust investigation against Microsoft centred on the company's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, a tactic that helped make the browser dominant around the world. Microsoft's defence in the case was a public relations disaster, repeatedly called out by judges as being misleading and evasive.

The original ruling in the case said Microsoft should split off its Internet Explorer business, but the company successfully appealed. Eventually, the US Department of Justice agreed a settlement with Microsoft, forcing the company to share its APIs with other companies. The Technical Committee and its consultants were charged with monitoring Microsoft's compliance.

Microsoft also fell foul of antitrust regulators in the European Union, where it was eventually forced to offer Windows users a choice of browser, rather than just making Internet Explorer the default.

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