The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 9.0°F | A Few Clouds

Microsoft Loses Bid for Sloan Research

BySanjay Basu
Staff Reporter

MIT and Harvard University won a court battle yesterday against Microsoft when a federal judge decided two professors would not have to release sensitive audiotapes made as part of academic research.

Microsoft fought for access to several hours of taped interviews with Netscape employees, including Chairman Jim Barksdale and co-founder Mark Andreessen, collected by Professor of Management Michael Cusumano at the Sloan School and Professor David Yoffie of the Harvard Business School.

While writing the book Competing on Internet Time:Lessons from Netscape and its Battle with Microsoft, the two researchers gathered information on Netscape's business dealings through these interviews. Both researchers claimed the documents were extremely sensitive and protected under First Amendment academic freedom rights.

By the time the trial came before the court, both researchers had already past a Sept. 28 deadline set by Microsoft's lawyers for turning over the tapes.

Microsoft hoped to use transcripts from those interviews as evidence against upcoming federal anti-trust lawsuits. In those interviews, Netscape officials reportedly admit that Netscape has made bad business decisions in the past decade.

Microsoft hoped to show that it was these mistakes, not unfair and illegal competition, that caused Netscape's economic problems in battling the software giant.

In court, lawyers for Cusumano and Yoffe said that forcing the authors to give up the tapes would work to prevent them from being able to conduct sensitive business research in the future, the Associated Press reported.

Microsoft lawyer Tom Sartory, meanwhile, said that the frank discussions on the tapes could not be discovered by the corporation through normal depositions.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns, while upholding the rights of the two researchers in claiming the tapes should not be made public, decided he may release sections of the tapes once the case against Microsoft goes to trial later this month in Washington.

Colleges protect research interests

"Harvard and MIT feel that this could be devastating to the research efforts of both universities," Yoffie stated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal before the decision was handed down. "Everything we do is based on being able to establish trust and promise confidentiality to people we work with, and if companies think notes and tapes could later be used against them in court, our ability to do this kind of research will be undermined."

According to the Journal, a Microsoft spokesman replied, "Microsoft has no desire to interfere with their ability to conduct research, and we are willing to work with the professors and the universities to ensure their confidential information is protected as well as all the rest of the confidential information in this case has been protected."

Request not unprecedented

Cusumano has faced similar demands before:in 1995, after co-authoring the book Microsoft Secrets, the Justice Department asked him to reveal the research he used for the book. Dr. Cusumano refused and the Department dropped their request.

Cusumano said that this latest book, due for publication Oct. 20, may have only questionable relevance to the antitrust case.

He reported to the Journal that the book does not examine anticompetitive business deals with Microsoft, but does suggest that the company "pushed for market share too aggressively" - a suggestion that may backfire on Microsoft lawyers.

Regardless of the book's content, both MITand Harvard agreed to protect the professors' research and filed objections to the subpoena in Federal Court in Boston.

Oracle Corporation, a Microsoft competitor, also filed its own objection against the subpoena on grounds that Microsoft is manipulating the judicial process in order to determine its competitor's most sensitive commercial information.