Categories: Antitrust, Microsoft

Roman Smolensky, 1960-1995

Posted by andrew on February 28th, 2010

I just learned that Roman Smolensky passed away in 1995, at age 35. His paper on "Algebraic methods in the theory of lower bounds for Boolean circuit complexity" is a classic; it was one of the ten most important papers I read in preparing my own D.Phil. thesis.

I got to meet Roman at the Durham symposium on Boolean function complexity in 1990, which turned out to be a watershed event for the field. I was as amazed by the elegance and power of Roman's work in person as on paper. (In the photo, Roman and I are both in the back row; Roman is standing directly under the "1961" date marker, and I'm three people to the right of him in the green shirt.)

Allan Borodin (with Leonid Charny) wrote a tribute to Roman in the journal Computational Complexity in 1997. He recalls Roman as "the most gentle, friendly and unimposing person" who "radiated a sense of internal peace and warm, positive and creative energy," words that perfectly match my now twenty-year-old recollections. Having left the theoretical computer science community for public policy and law in 1994, however, I could not help but find the following passage personally chastening:

"Finally in November 1994, Marek Karpinski was able to obtain a long-term position for Roman with his group in Bonn. This was a time when jobs in theoretical computer science were getting more difficult to obtain and many individuals were trying to redirect their work (or at least dress up their work) so as to be more 'practical.' This thought never entered Roman's considerations....

"Curiosity was the main motivation for Roman's research, so neither fashion nor practical considerations of job hunting were able to shift his interests from theoretical computer science to more 'practical' things."

Fantasy Baseball is Safe at the Plate

Posted by andrew on June 3rd, 2008

Supreme Court denials of cert shouldn't be such big news, but the media has been all over yesterday's dismissal of CBC Marketing v. Major League Baseball, on appeal from the Eighth Circuit. My comments on the district court decision are here.


Microsoft's Bid for Yahoo!

Posted by andrew on February 1st, 2008

The timing of Microsoft's $45 billion bid for Yahoo! may have as much to do with the impending departure of the Microsoft-friendly Bush administration as it does with the software giant's strategic plans.

Given the antitrust agencies' easy approval of Google's Doubleclick acquisition, it appears that "flat Web" thinking has taken hold in Washington. This is the notion that there are no barriers to entry or growth of Web-based companies, simply because of the Web's open architecture and massive scale. But if that is so, why hasn't Microsoft been able simply to grow its own Web presence to the size it desires? It's certainly not for lack of trying.

It's hard to see any merger-specific synergies resulting from this transaction. This is plainly a grab for Internet traffic so that Microsoft can continue to defend its Windows/Office monopoly against nascent Web-based alternatives. Technologically speaking, there are no new products or services Microsoft can offer to the 27% of Web users visiting every day that it couldn't already have delivered to the 18% who visit

Even so, Yahoo's stock price indicates that Wall Street is pretty sure this deal is going to go through, and I have to agree. Our current breed of antitrust enforcers, who have already decided that the Web is flat and that media concentration is no longer possible, will define a broad market and assign tiny market shares to MSN and Yahoo. Meanwhile, the Microsoft-free world just got a whole lot smaller today.

Seduction, the Greenspan Way

Posted by andrew on September 12th, 2007

Alan Greenspan and Andrea MitchellFrom the Washington Post's Reliable Source column:

Ever wonder how Alan Greenspan managed to land a much younger babe like Andrea Mitchell? Now revving up the promotional machine for his new book, the former Fed chairman and his now-wife divulge in a "60 Minutes" interview, to air Sunday on CBS, how he got her back to his apartment after that first dinner date in 1984.

According to Mitchell, he told her he wanted "to show me an essay he had written."

"On what?" asks interviewer Lesley Stahl.

"Antitrust," says Mitchell. "Monopolies."

"On the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890," clarifies Greenspan.

"You know how to woo a girl," says Stahl.

"It worked," says Greenspan.

(Thanks to Bert Foer.)

This is Rich

Posted by andrew on June 7th, 2007

Bill Gates mugshotOf all the honorary degrees Harvard could have awarded Bill Gates, he gets a Doctor of Laws? Computer science, business or economics, I could see. Even public health, education or political science for his philanthropic achievements. But during this unprecedented era of attacks on the rule of law by the wealthy and powerful, law schools should be leading the resistance, and Harvard should be in the vanguard. Harvard should have found a way to honor its most distinguished dropout without dishonoring the legacy of the late Prof. Phillip Areeda and the many great antitrust enforcers who have graduated from its law school. (These articles explain how U.S. courts have largely allowed Microsoft to violate and evade the antitrust laws for more than a decade.)

Qualcomm's Adventures in Iraq

Posted by andrew on March 21st, 2007

Memory chip manufacturer Rambus Inc. has spent the past several years as a defendant facing multiple antitrust claims. Rambus allegedly promoted the adoption of its designs by an industry standards organization, while failing to inform the organization that it had pending, secret patent applications covering those designs. Rival company Infineon Technologies AG, accused of infringing Rambus's patents, won a jury verdict on an antitrust counterclaim, but had that verdict overturned by the Federal Circuit in 2003. The Federal Trade Commission conducted its own investigation beginning in 2002, however, and last August unanimously held Rambus liable for unfair competition in violation of section 5 of the FTC Act. The administrative litigation is still pending, and appeals will likely follow.

=> Read more!


FTC Approves Google-YouTube Merger

Posted by andrew on November 2nd, 2006

According to this news item, the Federal Trade Commission has voted not to challenge Google's $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube.

I haven't yet been able to find notice of the decision on the FTC's Web site, but I'm a little puzzled already that the agency didn't even consider it necessary to issue a Second Request in this case. According to Hitwise, the pre-merger shares of YouTube and Google in the online video market were 45 percent and 11 percent respectively, giving the merger a whopping delta (i.e., increase in the HHI) of 990 points in an already highly concentrated market. I know we've come a long way from expecting the agencies to observe the thresholds stated in their own Horizontal Merger Guidelines, but this is ridiculous.

=> Read more!

Tying in Windows Vista

Posted by andrew on September 15th, 2006

The European Commission's competition directorate is publicly warning Microsoft against extending its practice of bundling security software features into Windows, raising the possibility of an antitrust challenge to the planned introduction of Windows Vista in 2007.

=> Read more!

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An examination of the legal and technological structures that keep almost all of us voiceless, by Prof. Andrew Chin (who?) at the University of North Carolina School of Law and Prof. Jay Kesan at the University of Illinois College of Law

voiceless is a new blog. If you like what you've seen so far, please consider making voiceless a little less voiceless by adding a link to it from your blogroll!

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