WASHINGTON -- The judge in the Microsoft antitrust trial has formally agreed to postpone delivering his verdict, people close to the case said today. The move suggests tempered optimism that lawyers could successfully negotiate a settlement.
Lawyers on all sides were notified late Monday that U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson had formally agreed to the delay and a new mediation schedule that allows for further negotiations until about April 7.
Sources close to the case said earlier that sufficient progress between the sides and a court-appointed mediator was likely to persuade Jackson to hold back plans for delivering a verdict.
Jackson has signaled he will rule strongly against Microsoft. Last November, he issued the first phase of his judgment with harsh findings that accepted nearly all allegations of illegal anti-competitive behavior by the company.
Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein flew to New York for an unrelated meeting Monday night at Columbia University. Officials from Microsoft and the attorney general's office declined to comment.
Shares of Microsoft dropped in trading Monday over the latest uncertainties, finishing regular trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market down $7.62 1/2 to $104.06 1/4.
Jackson earlier had warned lawyers from both sides that he would announce his decision today if they failed to make any progress during settlement talks, which were being coordinated in Chicago by a federal appeals judge, Richard Posner.
Some of the difficulties in evaluating Microsoft's offer stemmed from the large number of plaintiffs, which include 19 states in addition to the federal government. The Justice Department was discussing Microsoft's 10-page proposal with states, and some state officials were exchanging thoughts in a series of telephone conference calls Monday.
In the upcoming phase, Jackson must identify which federal laws, if any, Microsoft violated. If settlement efforts are fruitless, the judge was expected to decide on sanctions after hearings later in the spring or summer.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Microsoft's offer includes allowing computer makers to modify the blueprints to all current and future versions of its Windows software to embed competitors' technologies. The Journal said the offer also limits Microsoft from rewarding or punishing computer makers by banning discrimination for Windows' prices.
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