What Does the Government Want From Microsoft?

The government thinks Microsoft violated the antitrust laws. (Click here for a summary of arguments on both sides.) But what does the government wish to do about this? What remedy is the government proposing?

The reason the newspapers don’t tell you is that the Justice Department hasn’t said what it wants to happen. This antitrust suit, like all civil cases, begins with a plaintiffs’ complaint detailing the alleged offenses. (The Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general are the plaintiffs.) It is common, though not mandatory, for the complaint to suggest so-called “remedies.” For example, a person who is hit by an automobile will declare that $2 million cash will alleviate her pain and suffering. Or parties to a bitter divorce will sue for exclusive custody of the children.

In this case, however, the Justice Department is waiting to see how the court rules before deciding what remedy to ask for. The antitrust laws are both vague and in flux. The remedy request will depend not merely on whether the government wins the case, but on the judge’s analysis. Potential remedies the government might seek include, among others: 1) requiring Microsoft to separate its browser from the Windows operating system; 2) requiring Microsoft to provide details of its products to competitors; or 3) breaking the company into a number of smaller ones.

The judge may accept the government’s proposed remedy or fashion one of his own. And of course any remedy can be appealed to a higher court.

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Explainer thanks Professor Warren Grimes of the Southwestern University School of Law.