Google sued Microsoft

Google on Monday called on a judge to extend part of the US government‚??s four-year antitrust scrutiny of Microsoft, intensifying a lobbying battle in which the arch-rivals have sought to limit each other‚??s power.

In an unusual legal manoeuvre, Google went over the heads of justice department and state regulators to appeal directly to a federal judge to impose greater restrictions on the software company. However, Microsoft‚??s lawyers claimed the approach was part of an untested procedure that fell outside the judge‚??s remit.

Google‚??s intervention follows Microsoft‚??s appeal to the Federal Trade Commission in April to block its rival‚??s planned purchase of advertising technology company DoubleClick .

Monday‚??s legal challenge concerns software that people use to find information stored on their PCs by typing a word or phrase into a search box. Such software, made by both Microsoft and Google as well as other companies, is expected to assume increasing importance as people store more of their personal information on the web as well as on their computers.

Quick background: In April, Google sent a 50-page white paper to the US Department of Justice asserting that Microsoft was violating its 2002 antitrust settlement by not allowing outside desktop search engines (such as Google’s own Desktop Search application) to be installed in Windows Vista. Microsoft initially denied the claims, saying that users could indeed use Google’s application instead of their own, if not very easily, and assistant attorney general Thomas O. Barnett sided with the Redmond camp, writing a letter to state attorneys asking them to drop their investigations.

Then last week Microsoft agreed to make changes to the search application in Vista that would make it easier for consumers to install an outside default desktop search program. Google, however, wasn’t impressed. Monday, the search giant appealed directly to a federal judge saying that Microsoft had not done enough to mitigate their concerns.

Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association of Competitive Technology, called the intervention by Google a “PR stunt” (though as the Financial Times notes, his group generally sides with Microsoft), and I tend to agree. The Justice Department had already reviewed and dismissed Google’s complaint, and Microsoft had agreed to make concessions in an attempt to appease Google.

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