Microsofts Win Called Nail in Antitrust Coffin

A Microsoft attorney says the striking down of Massachusetts' appeal in the antitrust case removes "the last area of legal doubt" that kept the company waiting on key financial decisions.

Microsofts victory in a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday largely ends the Department of Justices 6-year-old antitrust case against the software maker and removes a major financial barrier for the company.

Wednesdays ruling struck down Massachusetts appeal of a 2001 settlement between Microsoft Corp. and the DOJ. Massachusetts was seeking stronger remedies against the Redmond, Wash., company.

Analysts and attorneys reacting to the ruling said it was an expected decision and one that is unlikely to be reconsidered by the U.S. Supreme Court if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were to decide to make a final appeal.

"Its a definitive nail in the plaintiffs coffin, and its doubtful that the Supreme Court would pry it back open," said Hillard Sterling, a principal at Chicago-based law firm Much, Shelist, Freed, Denenberg, Ament & Rubenstein PC.

"Massachusetts would have to show the Supreme Court a compelling reason why it should reach out and grab this case and turn it upside down. There isnt such a reason, aside from the states distaste."

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said his office is still reviewing the decision and has not made a decision on whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

For Microsoft, the latest victory in its U.S. antitrust case gives it more leeway in its financial plans. Wall Street analysts have wanted Microsoft to use its substantial cash reserves to issue a dividend or to buy back stock, an issue the company is expected to address during its July analysts meeting.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a news conference that Wednesdays decision will give the company more financial flexibility.

"We were very focused on waiting for this decision from the Court of Appeals, and todays decision does remove the last area of legal doubt that we were considering as a factor before we felt that we could move ahead with decision-making with respect to the companys financial reserves," said Smith, a Microsoft senior vice president.

Next Page: Microsofts not done with antitrust suits yet.