I'm not talking about the European Union, which nibbled the firm for several hundred million bucks this week, but quiet little Minnesota. Yes, the muskies are circling, looking to take a $425 million chomp out of the world's most sued software maker. And to do so, the plaintiff's counsel has cited an email exchange between Microsoft's Jeff Raikes and Berkshire Hathaway's
The courtroom action is just beginning, but we're already beginning to see the plaintiff's strategy. It's an argument that would make Karl Marx tingle with glee.
Here's the gist: Microsoft is too profitable. That's right, folks; the profit margin itself is under fire. According to ZDNet, plaintiffs attorney Richard Hagstrom told the court, "They lied, cheated and deceived to get monopoly-level profits."
Since the term "monopoly-level profits" doesn't appear in any of my business texts, we must turn to the Buffett exhibit. In the 1997 email (pdf file), Raikes and Buffett discuss Microsoft's high profit margins and the company's status as a "toll bridge." After being reported by TheWall Street Journal, the exchange -- especially the phrase "toll bridge" -- has put much of the computer press' undies in a bundle. To judge by the headlines, they figure, this is the smoking gun needed to take down Bill Gates' unholy empire.
The trouble with that argument is obvious: If juries get to decide when profit margins are too high, every business is at risk, including Buffett's beloved Coca-Cola
The reality is that the memo is a complete snoozer. Aside from bragging about Microsoft's potential for 90% gross margins, Raikes reveals nothing that could be construed as anti-competitive, though he certainly had ample opportunity to insert his foot in his mouth when he discussed the vulnerability of Microsoft's technological moat.
I harbor no doubt that Microsoft plays rough with competitors like Apple
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Windoze user and Fool contributor Seth Jayson gets really aggravated with Microsoft, honest. But he firmly believes that two wrongs don't make a right. He has no stake in any companies mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.