Steve Case, chairman of America Online (AOL), has dismissed suggestions that the online service provider plotted with the US Department of Justice against Microsoft as 'ridiculous'.
Case was interviewed by lawyers at a hotel in Washington DC last week in preparation for the next phase of the government's anti-trust lawsuit against the software giant. The case is expected to resume this week after its six-week break, despite earlier attempts to conclude the lawsuit.
Microsoft contends that AOL's purchase of rival Netscape Communications in November 1998 showed that 'its competitors have always had the ability and the resources to change the competitive landscape overnight' and that any actions of its own had not undermined rival Netscape's competitiveness in the browser market.
But while Case acknowledged that a senior AOL executive had privately warned David Boies, a top government lawyer, in October that it was in 'sensitive negotiations' with Netscape, he said the buyout 'struck me as the only reasonable thing to do'.
He added that if, when giving evidence, the line of questioning moved towards the secret negotiations taking place between the two companies, 'we would have some problems and have to object to those questions. It was a complicated three-ring circus to co-ordinate. We didn't want premature disclosures to leak out.'
But Case said he had nothing new to contribute to the trial. 'Nothing there (involving Netscape) has anything to do with operating systems, which, as best I can tell, is the focus of the trial,' he said.
However, US district judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has already expressed an interest in hearing Case's plans for Netscape.
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