Appeals Court to Take About Five Months to Hear Microsoft Antitrust Case - TheStreet

Updated from 1:26 p.m. EDT

A federal appeals court will take about five months to hear

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

appeal of a ruling that the software giant violated antitrust law and should be split in two.

Under a schedule the

Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

ordered Wednesday, the company will file a brief arguing its position by Nov. 27, the

Department of Justice

will attempt to refute it by Jan. 12, and Microsoft will have until Jan. 29, 2001 to make its final reply. The court said it will hear oral arguments on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, 2001.

Arguing that the case is extraordinarily complicated, Microsoft had asked for a schedule that would grant five months for written arguments alone, followed by oral arguments. Prosecutors, who never wanted the case heard by this court at all, had asked for a pace that would allow oral arguments to begin by January.

The court, which had invited the parties to jointly submit a schedule, instead was presented with two proposals that disagreed on most every conceivable point. The court split the difference and even apparently teased the lawyers a bit.

Microsoft had requested rules that would allow 56,000-word briefs, while the Justice Department had asked for a limit of 24,000 words. Appellate courts rules typically limit briefs to 14,000 words. Instead of specifying a word limit, the court ordered briefs of no more than 150 pages. At 250 words per page, that would be 37,500 words, but the court made no mention of spacing or type size.

But the court was denied a chance to appear truly Solomonic by the parties' perfect poker faces.

Chris Watney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said, "We're looking forward to presenting our case to the Court of Appeals."

Jim Cullinan, a spokesman for Microsoft, said: "We believe this is a fair and reasonable schedule and we look forward to presenting our arguments to the court. We are confident of our case on appeal and believe that the district court's judgment will be reversed due to the wide array of legal, factual and procedural errors."

In a setback for prosecutors, the

United States Supreme Court

sent the case last month to the lower appeals court, which quickly

asked the parties to set a schedule for arguments.

A three-judge panel of the court of appeals, in a similar case, issued an important ruling in Microsoft's favor two years ago. The Justice Department had invoked an obscure 1974 law known as the Expediting Act in an effort to send the company's appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

On

June 7, District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered that Microsoft be split in two and placed restrictions on its business practices to remedy antitrust violations. He subsequently stayed both remedies. The appeals court on June 13 volunteered to hear any appeal as a full panel, rather than as a three-judge panel, "in view of the exceptional importance" of the case.

The breakup ordered by Jackson would place the Windows operating system in one company and create a second business for everything else, including software applications, the Internet Explorer Web browser and the Microsoft Network Internet service provider and network of Web sites.

Microsoft finished Wednesday regular trading up $1.19, or 2%, at $55.75. But the stock is down substantially from its 52-week high of $119.94, reached in late December before the string of adverse antitrust rulings against Microsoft pulled the company's share down.