Microsoft takes lobbying campaign to Comdex

Steps up its 'Freedom to Innovate' message as DOJ case plods forward

While Microsoft executives made few public remarks on the company's legal troubles at Comdex/Fall this week, it still found a way to make known its viewpoint that the government should adopt a "hands-off" approach in the technology arena.

In a corner of Microsoft's mammoth booth on the Comdex show floor were a couple of External Affairs representatives staffing Microsoft's "Freedom to Innovate Network" counter. The staffers handed out to passersby brochures on Microsoft's lobbying effort and encouraged them to mail in or sign up online to receive regular newsletter updates from Microsoft on a variety of fronts--but especially on the company's ongoing wranglings with the US Department of Justice.

Representatives discussed the case with interested Comdex attendees and handed out Freedom to Innovate Network, or FIN, bookmarks. When asked how individuals were responding to Microsoft's message, one FIN staffer said she had experienced few negative or combative encounters with Comdex goers, other than some heckling from those who seemed to be firmly in the Linux camp.

This week marks the first time Microsoft has sent FIN representatives to Comdex. But as of late, the company has been visibly stepping up its campaign to get individuals to back its legal positions. At the recent annual shareholders' meeting in Bellevue, Microsoft FIN representatives were handing out the same FIN brochures to attendees.

"Freedom to Innovate Network (FIN) members care about the future of Microsoft, America's leadership in the information age, and the technology industry--an industry more innovative and competitive than any other," begins the FIN brochure.

Microsoft's growing lobbying efforts around its DOJ antitrust case come at a time when the company has been forced to reckon with Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's harsh findings of fact against Microsoft, as well as with calls from leaders of competitors urging a break-up Microsoft to prevent it from being able to wield monopoly power in the future.

Microsoft's own leaders seem divided on how far Microsoft will go to settle its antitrust case before the judge rules some time next year. While president Steve Ballmer said at Comdex this week that Microsoft would under no circumstances entertain the possibility of breaking up the company as a term of settlement, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates said during a "Good Morning America" TV appearance on Wednesday that Microsoft would not rule out anything, including breakup, as a discussion point for settlement.

Today, in Washington, D.C., representatives from Microsoft and the Justice Department are meeting in the judge's chambers to work out the schedule for the remainder of the antitrust case's proceedings.

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