Japan's Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has continued its investigation into Microsoft's licensing practices, meeting executives from the software giant yesterday for further talks.

During the 15-minute meeting, Microsoft's lawyers asked the JFTC to clarify its position so the company can prepare its refutation, said Toshihiro Hara, director of the JFTC's First Special Investigation Division. "Microsoft said that the JFTC investigator's assertion was unclear in several points," said Hara.

The meeting yesterday followed a first meeting on 25 October, when the JFTC listed its charges. The two sides will meet next on 4 February when the JFTC will present its assertions in writing, he said.

Monday's meeting saw no change in the discussions with the JFTC, said Aki Araki, a spokeswoman the local unit of Microsoft. "Both sides are quite far from each other," she said.

In July, the JFTC charged that certain provisions in licence agreements between Microsoft and Japanese PC vendors violated Japan's Anti-monopoly Act. Microsoft allegedly forced the vendors to accept a contractual clause stipulating that they can't bring a case to court even if Microsoft's technologies are very similar to those developed by Japanese firms.

Microsoft rejected the charges, saying it had dropped the disputed provisions from new licences in February. However, the company did keep the provisions on existing licences. The JFTC raided the company's Tokyo headquarters later that month.

The dispute could take between two and three years to resolve, according to the JFTC. "Basically, the JFTC's investigators have not changed their position," said Hara.

In a separate case, the ruling on Microsoft's attempt to suspend anti-competitive sanctions imposed upon it by the European Union is expected tomorrow.