The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Microsoft with violating antitrust and trade regulation laws by trying to illegally maintain a monopoly in the computer software industry. 

Microsoft first made illegal attempts to maintain this monopoly back in 1995, when it tried to persuade the company Netscape, who had created their own "Navigator" browser to compete with Microsoft Internet Explorer, to split the market with Microsoft so that Microsoft’s Explorer would be used on all PCs that have Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system, and Netscape’s Navigator would be featured on all other PCs.

After Netscape refused this deal, Microsoft tried to completely cut Netscape out of the market by forcing PC manufacturers to license and install Internet Explorer if the manufacturers wanted a license for the operating system Windows 95, and later on Windows 98.

Microsoft had also instituted policies of exclusionary restrictions by not allowing any easy means of removing Internet Explorer or preventing any additional competing browsers that have been installed on the PC from being displayed in greater prominence than the Internet Explorer program.  In fact, competing programs usually are displayed with less prominence than Microsoft’s browser program.

In addition, Microsoft has also made anticompetitive agreements with Internet Content Providers (ICPs) to the affect that ICPs would only advertise themselves in the Internet Explorer browser on the active desktop feature, and would not pay to be advertised on a competitor browser or even mention the competitive browser in public.

Essentially, Microsoft had formed a series of anticompetitive agreements along with some clever programming to make sure Netscape’s Navigator browser would not play a major role in the Internet browser market.

What Was the Result of the Suit by DOJ?

In 2002, a settlement between the Department of Justice and Microsoft was approved.  The settlement said that Microsoft could not engage in any more anticompetitive agreements.  The settlement mandated that Microsoft must have uniform contracts for computer manufacturers.  The settlement also stated that Microsoft must allow for the ability to delete icons for some Microsoft program features, as well as provide some sensitive technical information to software developers so they can create programs that work just as well with Windows as Microsoft programs.

What Should I Do if My Business Has Been Accused of Engaging in Anti-Competitive Practices?

If you own a business and are accused of engaging in anticompetitive practices, you may want to consult a business attorney, especially if the Department of Justice has started investigating your company.  Your attorney will be able to advise you of your rights as well as your options, and help navigate the legal system in a way where your interests are best represented.