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Microsoft’s plan to buy North Dakota-based Great Plains, a business-management software company, may not have attracted the same antitrust scrutiny as some of the company’s other moves. But at least one Silicon Valley startup fears the proposed deal so strongly that its lawyers have written the Department of Justice to plead for an antitrust investigation. It’s a move that could encourage other companies to demand similar scrutiny when Microsoft makes forays into their territories. Lawyers and an adviser to the startup decline to reveal its name. “Even the disclosure of its identity to the Justice Department could result in severe economic repercussions,” the Oakland, Calif., law firm Wendel Rosen Black & Dean said in the letter to the DOJ’s antitrust division. “On behalf of our client, we wish to express extreme concern over the antitrust implications of these acquisitions,” wrote Wendel Rosen partner David L. Preiss. He declined to detail the concerns. The client is a so-called “stealth” company that intends to keep its identity secret until it introduces its product, according to J. Carlton Collins, an accounting software expert who is on the company’s board of advisers. Collins, the editor of Atlanta, Ga.-based Accounting Software News, says Microsoft’s accounting software acquisitions will make it a formidable player in the industry: “The company I’m advising has cause for alarm. Microsoft won’t be cornering the market, but it will certainly be a very dominant player.” Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan says the Great Plains deal is large enough to automatically trigger a review by Washington, D.C., officials anyway. But, he adds, “We do believe it will be approved.” A DOJ spokesman did not immediately return a call requesting comment. William Kovacic, an antitrust authority at George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C., says competitors routinely go to the DOJ complaining about mergers and acquisitions by rivals. “Officials at the Justice (Department) are more likely to listen to consumer complaints,” he says, “but a letter from a competitor also will be heard. The stealth company here needs to make an interesting and compelling pitch that its concerns are well-aligned with consumer interests. Then it needs to be ready to respond to the inevitable round of follow-up questions.” Kovacic says Microsoft’s current legal problems — Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s ruling is currently on appeal — will definitely be a factor in the scrutiny given to its newest corporate moves. “The Justice (Department) will be more inclined to listen sympathetically to complaints,” he says. That’s exactly what Collins says the stealth company is hoping for. He says others in the accounting software business may join the stealth company in petitioning the Justice Department to block the Great Plains deal. Copyright � 2000 The Industry Standard

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