Department of Justice subpoenas Sun in Microsoft case

Java may be under examination

By Nancy Weil

March  1998
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Boston (March 17, 1998) -- Sun Microsystems Inc. has received subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice which is investigating Microsoft Corp. for anti-competitive behavior, a Sun spokeswoman confirmed today.

However, the subpoenas were not received recently, said Anne Little of Sun, though she declined to say specifically when the subpoenas were received.

The subpoenas may indicate that at some point, the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into alleged antitrust violations by Microsoft was broadened to include issues related to Sun's Java programming language. Sun last year filed suit against Microsoft alleging that Microsoft violated terms of its Java license by rendering its implementation of Java incompatible with Sun's. (See the timeline below highlighting of the key events surrounding the U.S. government's investigation of Microsoft.)

Sun also has received subpoenas from several states that are investigating Microsoft; technically called "civil investigative demands" these were received by Sun "quite some time ago," according to Little.

Nancy Weil is a correspondent with the IDG News Service


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Microsoft under siege: An updated timeline

Microsoft Corp. has been the subject of U.S. government investigations since 1991 and also has been under ongoing scrutiny in Europe. This timeline highlights key events of government inquiries into business practices of the Redmond, WA-based software company.

1991 -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opens investigation into Microsoft's alleged monopoly of the PC software market after competitors complain that Microsoft has an unfair advantage because it makes software as well as the operating systems on which the applications run.

February 1993 -- After two years, FTC commissioners deadlock over whether to pursue the investigation.

July 1993 -- FTC commissioners deadlock again after meeting to discuss investigation.

August 1993 -- In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division picks up investigation, using evidence submitted to FTC.

April 1994 -- Developers express outrage over nondisclosure agreements related to work on Windows 95, then code-named Chicago, which say that they cannot work on competing operating system products. Developers send agreement copies to the DOJ.

July 1994 -- Microsoft and the DOJ settle the antitrust case, signing a consent decree, which includes an agreement that Microsoft stop charging OEMs a blanket royalty on all PCs sold even if the machines are not bundled with Windows. Microsoft comes to the same terms with the European Commission, which had begun its own probe of the company's practices.

September 1994 through January 1995 -- Microsoft and the DOJ defend the consent decree before U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin.

October 1994 -- Microsoft announces it intends to buy Intuit Inc.

December 1994 -- Three key members of U.S. Senate Antitrust Committee urge the DOJ to look closely at the long-term implications of the Microsoft-Intuit deal.

January 1995 -- Sporkin admits at Jan. 20 public hearing, "I got too involved in this case."

February 1995 -- Sporkin rejects the consent decree, saying the deal showed "that the U.S. government is either incapable or unwilling to deal effectively with a potential threat to this nation's economic well-being."

February 1995 through April 1995 -- The DOJ and Microsoft appeal Sporkin's ruling.

April 1995 -- The DOJ files a lawsuit to block Microsoft's purchase of Intuit, and a June 26 trial date is set.

May 1995 -- Citing the expense and time a trial would require, Microsoft says it will not try to buy Intuit.

June 1995 -- Microsoft confirms that the DOJ is investigating its plans to bundle Microsoft Network with Windows 95.

June 1995 -- An appeals court upholds the consent degree, orders the lower court to approve it and removes Sporkin from the case, finding his approach unorthodox and ruling that his settlement rejection contained judicial errors and personal bias against Microsoft.

June 1995 -- Microsoft accuses the DOJ of harassment after the department demands boxes of documents on short deadline.

August 1995 -- A U.S. federal judge approves the consent decree, forcing Microsoft to stop asking OEMs to pay licensing fees for PCs they sell which do not include a copy of Windows.

February 1996 -- The DOJ confirms investigation of Microsoft's acquisition of Vermeer Technologies Inc., which develops software for creating World Wide Web sites.

August 1996 -- Netscape Communications Corp. asks the DOJ to take swift action in light of new evidence of Microsoft's anti-competitive practices, including allegations of predatory pricing and coercing vendors, ISPs and companies into using, offering or favoring Microsoft's Web browser.

September 1996 -- The DOJ opens investigation into whether Microsoft's approach to selling Internet software violates antitrust laws.

June 1997 -- Three senators, unhappy with progress the DOJ is making in its ongoing antitrust investigation of Microsoft, request that the FTC take over the probe.

July 1997 -- The FTC declines to intervene in the inquiry.

August 1997 -- Microsoft announces US$150 million investment in Apple Computer Inc., which is followed by a DOJ request for information.

October 1997 -- U.S. consumer advocate Ralph Nader announces that he is hosting a two-day conference to look into Microsoft's business practices.

October 1997 -- The DOJ asks a federal court to hold Microsoft in contempt of the 1995 consent decree and charge the company $1 million daily for requiring PC makers to include Internet Explorer as a condition of licensing Windows 95.

October 1997 -- Sun Microsystems Inc. sues Microsoft for allegedly failing to stick to its Java licensing agreement.

November 1997 -- The Texas Attorney General files suit against Microsoft, alleging that the company's nondisclosure agreements interfere with a state antitrust investigation.

December 1997 -- U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issues preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to stop requiring PC makers to preinstall the IE browser as a licensing condition for Windows 95. He says that the DOJ "has not clearly convinced" him that Microsoft is in violation of consent decree and continues the case, appointing a "special master" to collect information and report back at the end of May 1998.

December 1997 -- Representatives from the offices of at least nine state attorneys general meet in Chicago to consider collectively pursuing an investigation of Microsoft. Recent successes in collective action against tobacco companies suggest that the pooling of limited state resources in long, costly fights is effective.

December 1997 -- The DOJ announces it has hired renowned antitrust attorney David Boies as a consultant in the Microsoft case.

December 1997 -- Representative of Nader group meets with European Commission regarding its ongoing investigation of Microsoft.

December 1997 -- The DOJ asks Jackson to find Microsoft in contempt of preliminary injunction.

December 1997 -- Microsoft argues it is being "irreparably harmed" by complying with court order and asks an appeals court to take preliminary injunction appeal on expedited basis.

December 1997 -- The DOJ says Microsoft is misinterpreting court order to unbundle IE from Windows 95 and is "jerry-rigging" products to make it hard for PC makers to uninstall the browser.

January 1998 -- Microsoft asks that special master Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, disqualify himself because an e-mail exchange between him and officials at Netscape Communications Corp. regarding Microsoft and the browser shows Lessig is biased against the software maker. A day later, Lessig refuses to disqualify himself.

January 1998 -- Contempt-of-court hearing opens in Washington D.C. with a government witness showing it is easy to uninstall IE and a Microsoft witness showing how hard it is. Judge Jackson rebukes Microsoft attorneys repeatedly over statements made in court.

January 1998 -- Jackson rules against Microsoft, says Lessig will stay as special master. Microsoft appeals Jackson's decision.

January 1998 -- Microsoft settles contempt issue, agreeing to an unbundled version of Windows 95, but appeals preliminary injunction. Appeals court sets April 21 hearing date.

February 1998 -- U.S. Appeals Court suspends Lessig, sets April hearing date on special master issue.

February 1998 -- The DOJ reportedly expands scope of Microsoft investigation.

February 1998 -- The DOJ subpoenas documents from Microsoft partners listed in Active Desktop feature of IE 4.0.

February 1998 -- Texas District Judge Joseph Hart cites December ruling from Jackson, dismisses state attorney general suit against Microsoft, saying non-disclosure agreements signed by PC makers not shown to impede state investigation.

February 1998 -- The DOJ and state attorneys general meet to share information.

February 1998 -- The DOJ subpoenas America Online Inc. and MCI Communications Corp. in Microsoft case.

March 1998 -- Attorneys general from 27 states file friend-of-court brief in the DOJ case, asking Judge Jackson's injunction be upheld.

March 1998 -- Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates defends company business practices before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Industry leaders speak for and against Microsoft.

March 1998 -- The DOJ announces hiring of Jeff Blattner to head IT cases in antitrust division.

--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

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