The Justice Department has reportedly approached several major banks in the United States, seeking advice about the best way to break up Microsoft Corporation into smaller companies should the government wins its antitrust case against the software giant. According to a report in USA Today Thursday, at least two of these banks have refused to cooperate with the study for fear of siding with a government agency that is seen as interventionist. Bankers say that the government has requested data concerning the logical "breakup points" at Microsoft and what the effect such a breakup would have on the market.

The Justice Department, however, will not confirm the story.

"We have made preliminary inquiries to experts that might assist us in evaluating an array of remedy options if the court ultimately rules in our favor," a DOJ spokesperson said this week, noting that it was "premature" to discuss possible sanctions.

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson is expected to deliver a sentence late this year. At that point, the court will decide on the punishment, should Microsoft be found guilty of antitrust violations, as is widely expected. However, Microsoft could easily tie the court up for years while it appeals the verdict.

"We believe when you look at the record the government has failed to prove its case," says Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan