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A secret war on Google?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece about small Internet firms that have filed antitrust lawsuits against Google. It just so happens that the attorney representing these small companies, Rick Rule, is also the longtime chief outside counsel on competition issues for Microsoft.

A coincidence? An excerpt from the story:

"My reaction was, 'What the heck is this?' " says Mark Sheriff, an Ohio attorney who represents Google, speaking of the involvement of Mr. Rule and his powerhouse law firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, whose antitrust practice is based in Washington, D.C. "It's not every day that a big D.C. law firm like Cadwalader gets involved in a collections lawsuit in Ohio."

More:

To Google, the pattern is clear: It contends Microsoft is embarking on a proxy war against it through various apparently unrelated cases, preparing the ground for a broader antitrust assault of some sort on Google's dominance in the online world. "It's become clear that our competitors are scouring court dockets around the world looking for complaints against Google into which they can inject themselves, learn more about our business practices, and use that information to develop a broader antitrust complaint against us," said a Google spokesman, Adam Kovacevich.

Microsoft calls that nonsense. It says it neither initiated nor is funding the small Internet firms' antitrust lawsuits. The plaintiffs and their legal counsel also deny that Microsoft orchestrated the actions. The Internet firms say they chose Cadwalader and Mr. Rule on their own.

If Microsoft is indeed behind the lawsuits, it would be a pretty clever strategy and obviously, a role reversal:

For many years, it was Microsoft that had to fight off charges--from the Justice Department and from European authorities--of abusing its market power to crush rivals. The official challenges followed numerous complaints from competing software companies, such as Web-browser maker Netscape Communications Corp.

Some legal experts think Microsoft now is taking a page from those firms' playbook to try to stir up official scrutiny of its own nemesis, Google. "Microsoft is doing a lot to try and harass Google on the antitrust front," says Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California.

As the Justice Department's antitrust chief Christine Varney put it, "Microsoft is so last century." Google wears the bullseye now. Should be an interesting story to follow.

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