A mediator has been appointed by the court in an attempt to deliver a settlement in the long running antitrust dispute between the US Government's Department of Justice (DoJ) and Microsoft.
US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who oversaw the trial and delivered a damning "finding of fact" against Microsoft earlier this month, announced on Friday that both sides had agreed that another judge, Richard Posner, should mediate "voluntary" negotiations between the two sides.
Talk of a settlement between the two parties has intensified since Jackson declared Microsoft had a monopoly with its Windows operating system that had harmed both competitors and consumers.
As a result, both sides issued statements welcoming the appointment of Posner, who is an appeals court judge in Chicago.
Microsoft said: "We look forward to working with Judge Posner. We think this is potentially a very positive step toward resolving the case."
The DoJ said, on the other hand: "Judge Posner is a highly respected jurist. We look forward to meeting with him to discuss ways to address the serious competitive problems identified in the findings of fact. The Department has always been willing to seek a settlement that would promote competition, innovation, and consumer choice."
And although Posner's appointment surprised many trial watchers, it was universally welcomed. Harvey Saferstein, a Los Angeles based antitrust lawyer, said: "He is respected by liberals and conservatives. He has enormous respect in the academic world and he has the ability to bring these sides together."
Microsoft investors also welcomed the news, sending the software giant's share price up to nearly $91 in after hours trading from $86 at the start of play.
The next deadline in the controversial court case is 6 December, when the DoJ will go before Jackson with suggestions on how to apply antitrust laws to his findings of fact - unless Posner can negotiate a settlement, of course.
But there will be more legal toing and froing after the Christmas holiday and throughout January, which will culminate in the Microsoft and DoJ lawyers delivering oral arguments on their proposed conclusions of law in late February.
The appointment of Posner will not affect the trial's timetable, however, which will continue as scheduled while Posner mediates.
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