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Will Gates' Ego Prevent A Settlement?

By Chet Dembeck
Nov 30, 1999 12:00 AM PT

The whole world will be watching today as lawyers for Microsoft Corp. and the government resume talks with a federal appeals judge in Chicago, Illinois.

Will Gates' Ego Prevent A Settlement?

Both sides will meet with Richard Posner, chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who agreed to serve as a mediator after being chosen by Microsoft monopoly trial judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.

Judge Jackson, who declared Microsoft a monopoly earlier this month, told lawyers that he might well delay the next phase of the case if settlement negotiations begin moving forward.

Put Up Or Shut Up

Each side will apparently be required to put some kind of proposal on the table. Only then will it become apparent how far apart the two sides really are.

Nonetheless, Judge Jackson has already warned all concerned that conservative jurist Posner is not one to be trifled with by using any sort of delaying tactics.

"I don't think that he is going to be prepared to waste a whole lot of time if it looks from the outset that it's not promising," said Judge Jackson in reference to a possible settlement. "But if he seems to think that more time is needed, that certainly is something I would be willing to consider, too."

Will Gates Attend?

While it is not widely believed that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will attend the preliminary meeting, it is not outside the realm of possibility. Any appearance would certainly be a showstopper, and probably signal the coming of a swift settlement.

Nonetheless, even if the richest man in the world decides to keep a lower profile and not come, there is little doubt that he could easily handle any necessary negotiations via the telephone, as he has done in the past.

A Propitious Time

Meanwhile, Judge Jackson stated last week that the current climate was "probably as propitious a time for any possible negotiated outcome as you could have."

I agree with the judge. Since the outcome of the trial seems already predetermined, it makes a lot of sense for Microsoft and the government to put the inevitable behind them as quickly as possible.

Will Egos Get In The Way?

One potential obstacle to a settlement is if Gates and Posner clash at the outset. On the other hand, if the two men find common ground, Microsoft and the government could chisel out a settlement that would send Microsoft's stock right into the stratosphere.

Whichever way it goes, one thing is guaranteed -- this saga will be played and replayed for many decades to come. Let's hope that cooler heads prevail.

What do you think? Let's talk about it.

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