Microsoft May Have a Splitting Headache

Nineteen states and the U.S. Department of Justice have brought an antitrust case against Microsoft. The end result could be the company being ordered to divide into a number of "Baby Bills," if Microsoft loses the case. The antitrust case was filed in response to Microsoft's monopoly of the Windows operating system.

Splitting Microsoft into as many as five "Baby Bills" has been supported by Robert Bork, former judge and antitrust expert. The "Baby Bills" would be identical and would each have complete copies of Microsoft's intellectual properties. Such a structure would place the "Baby Bills" in direct competition against each other.

Courts typically haven't stepped in and broken up monopoly companies. History shows that it can and has happened, as in 1984 when AT&T was broken into "Baby Bells." Also, in 1975, another monopoly was broken when Xerox was required to license its copier patents.

In the event Microsoft loses the antitrust case, splitting the company isn't the only possibility. It is also being considered that Microsoft be required to license Windows software to its competitors. An additional option under consideration would be to divide Microsoft into two separate and distinct companies. One of the companies would be an applications company and the other would be an operating system provider.

The U.S. Department of Justice is withholding comment on what actions they may pursue should they win the case, saying only, "The trial is ongoing. Speculation about what the department might do if the court rules in our favor is premature and inappropriate."

The possible solutions of cloning "Baby Bills" splitting the company into two or mandating licensing are only recommendations and would have to be presented to Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein and finally to Attorney General Janet Reno for consideration. But this review will occur only in the event that Microsoft loses its court battle.

For now, Microsoft can hope that last year's U.S. Court of Appeals decision stating "this is not in the interest of consumers" will bolster its position.