Microsoft is digging deeper into its stores of electronic correspondence after a US District Court judge instructed the company to provide more information about a four-year-old email from a company vice-president that told employees to delete email after 30 days.
Microsoft will comply with the new instructions, which were issued in a patent infringement and antitrust case brought by Burst.com.
The company had acknowledged that the 30-day limit mentioned in the email message was shorter than Microsoft's official document retention policy, but denied that the order was related to legal cases facing the company at the time, a Microsoft spokesperson, Jim Desler, said. The company is still reviewing a transcript of the instructions regarding the email message.
Microsoft would probably provide the court with more email messages that put in context the reminder that came from vice-president of Microsoft’s Platforms Group, James Allchin, to destroy all business-related email, Desler said.
Judge J Frederick Motz, of the US District Court for Maryland, asked Microsoft to review computer files from the company's legal department and to interview Microsoft lawyers regarding the 30-day policy, according to an attorney with San Francisco law firm Hosie Frost Large & McArthur, Spencer Hosie, which is representing Burst.com.
Burst.com filed its suit against Microsoft in June 2002, alleging that Microsoft stole patented technology and trade secrets concerning Internet-based video-on-demand for its Windows Media Player product.
Microsoft learned all about Burst.com's technology in two years of meetings and discussions. Microsoft signed a non-disclosure agreement with Burst prior to those meetings, Burst.com said.
The Allchin email surfaced after Burst.com filed repeated motions for Microsoft to turn over email messages and backup tapes containing email. Burst.com is looking for documents from several Microsoft employees who worked in Microsoft's Digital Media Division and worked with
Burst.com prior to the two companies ending talks.
A number of those employees have since left Microsoft.
Their employee files were destroyed by the company after they left, Hosie said.
Microsoft acknowledges that it can't find some of the documents Burst.com is looking for, but denies that there is a company policy to destroy important documents.
"[Burst] is trying to make the allegation that Microsoft was doing something in terms of document retention – this came up in a broader discussion of the existence of emails or notes that we have looked thoroughly for, but ... don't know if they exist," Desler said.
So far, Microsoft has turned over more than 500,000 pages from 60 employee files in the case, Desler said. But Hosie said that many of those documents were bug test records and were of little use in the litigation.