Microsoft Corp. and lawyers for the plaintiffs met before a mediator in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to try and iron out a settlement for the more than 100 private antitrust cases against the Redmond, Wash. software firm, but the talks ended without any resolution.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said that todays meeting ended after a few hours at the request of the mediator, Ken Feinberg, due to his own outside obligations. "But the mediator requested that the parties keep the window of mediation open.
"I guess the next step is that the mediator will be talking to the judge regarding todays meeting and any other related issues," he said, adding that no date had been set for the possible resumption of mediation talks.
Desler declined to comment on the exact content of the meeting, saying this would be kept confidential. But Microsoft had "agreed to the mediators request and remained open-minded about the process," he added.
Steve Benz, a partner at law firm Kellog, Huber, Hansen, Todd & Evans in Washington D.C. and co-counsel for the California plaintiffs, said the parties would be notified on Tuesday whether the mediation would continue or not.
"If it does not continue we expect [Maryland Federal District Court Judge J. Frederick] Motz to rule by the end of the week on whether to approve the preliminary settlement. Thats all I can tell you as we are under a confidentiality order," he said.
The private antitrust cases were brought against Microsoft last year following the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that the Redmond, Wash., company had violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
While a proposed settlement is already on the table and parties have already argued its merits before Judge Motz, some Californian class-action lawyers have opposed the deal and have asked the Judge to strike down the settlement or allow their lawsuits to proceed separately in California.
They, and other parties like Apple Computer, feel the settlement negotiated by Microsoft and the other class-action lawyers is a ploy designed to entrench the Windows monopoly while allowing the company to pay back only a tiny fraction of what it actually owes consumers.
Judge Motz himself last week expressed concern about the deal, which would give the nations poorest schools computers and software estimated at $1 billion. He also expressed concern about including California in the proposed settlement and ordered the parties to meet with a mediator today to hammer out more-acceptable terms.
Apple Computer, one of the harshest and most vocal critics of the proposed settlement, on Tuesday continued its broadside of the plan. CEO Steve Jobs issued a statement saying the proposed settlement compelled schools to adopt Microsoft technology and that most educators and Apple "think this is simply wrong.
"Any settlement must guarantee that schools have the freedom to choose, and this requires that Microsoft pay their penalty in cash, not donated Microsoft software which will cost them only pennies on the dollar. A $1 billion cash penalty represents less than 3 percent of Microsofts $36 billion cash hoard," he said.
But Microsofts Desler rejected this, saying national education organizations, including the National Education Association, the Council of the Great City Schools and the United Negro College Fund, had enthusiastically voiced their support for the settlement agreement.
"We have been listening to the views of educators as well as competitors in the software industry, and have already refined the agreement to clarify and ensure the independence and impartiality of the education foundation established as part of the settlement," he said.
Microsoft remained open-minded and was willing to listen to and discuss reasonable suggestions that were consistent with the agreements original intent of providing technology to the neediest schools, he reiterated.