Justice to Launch Probe of Microsoft
By Sandra Sugawara
The Justice Department announced late yesterday it will launch an investigation into complaints of anti-competitive practices by Microsoft Corp., the nation's largest software company.
The decision follows a two-year investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which twice deadlocked on whether to take any action against Microsoft. The FTC turned over its documents in the case to the antitrust division for review last month.
"We have been granted clearance by the Federal Trade Commission with respect to Microsoft," said Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
"We are investigating the matter. We expect to fully utilize all materials submitted to the FTC to avoid duplication based on the work already done. We hope to conclude the matter as promptly as possible."
Microsoft officials could not be reached for comment.
It will be the first major investigation by the division under the new antitrust chief, Assistant Attorney General Anne Bingaman, who has promised to aggressively pursue antitrust cases.
But it could become a politically sensitive case for the Clinton administration because Microsoft is one of the nation's strongest competitors in the international market, and if the Justice Department brings charges it could weaken the company's position.
The Justice Department announcement came after the FTC released a letter to Microsoft saying it had closed its investigation.
The FTC said that Chairman Janet D. Steiger had moved in a closed board meeting in February that the agency seek a preliminary injunction to ban Microsoft from engaging in practices that allegedly unfairly blocked competitors from the market.
Competitors have alleged that they have been blocked out of markets by Microsoft's pricing system, and by technical barriers that Microsoft has erected to make it appear that competing products do not work.
The FTC deadlocked 2 to 2, with one commissioner abstaining, and thus no action was taken.
At its closed meeting in July, Steiger moved that the commission issue an administrative complaint against Microsoft. But that also failed 2 to 2.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company