Microsoft's top lawyer said today that merger discussions between America Online and Netscape could undermine the US government's antitrust case against the software giant.
"The government's case has always been designed to help Microsoft's competitors, not consumers," William Neukom, Microsoft's senior vice president for law and corporate affairs, told reporters outside the courthouse where the trial is taking place.
"This proposed deal shows that the government's case was and is unnecessary. Microsoft's competitors have always had the ability and the resources to change the competitive landscape overnight," he added.
AOL has confirmed that it is in merger discussions with Netscape and is considering a possible alliance with Sun Microsystems to develop and market Netscape products. However, no agreements have yet been made.
The federal government and 20 states have charged that Microsoft illegally maintained a monopoly in operating systems and then used that monopoly to compete unfairly against Netscape in the market for Internet browsers.
The government argues that it brought the case to benefit consumers, not to help Microsoft's competitors, claiming the giant has damaged innovation and raised prices.
But Neukom accused the government of "taking sides" between companies. "As this deal shows, the marketplace is always five steps ahead of government intervention,? he said. ?The government should not be taking sides in an industry that is as open and competitive as is this one."
Although speculation in the industry suggested the AOL/Netscape deal could be inked today, reports from Dow Jones suggest that nothing will be closed until at least tomorrow.
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