Court rejection of Microsoft appeal shows strong EU hand

Discussion in 'Vista News' started by Jason, Sep 19, 2007.

  1. Jason

    Jason

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    BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union's second-highest court affirmed the EU's nine-year pursuit of Microsoft Corp., rejecting the software maker's appeal and strengthening the bloc's hand as it pushes ahead with cases against other major technology companies.



    The European Court of First Instance ruled Monday the European Commission was correct in concluding that Microsoft used its dominance in desktop computers to muscle into server software and media players in the 1990s -- and that Microsoft still poses similar threats.



    It also upheld the record 497 million euro ($613 million) fine imposed on the company in 2004 -- the largest ever levied by EU regulators.



    The resounding victory for the EU -- successful on all but one point -- cements Europe's role as the lead international regulator of market-dominant companies around the world. The EU persisted with its case against Microsoft even as the U.S. Justice Department settled in 2001 and many of the original plaintiffs dropped out.



    "In global markets, the antitrust policy that matters is the most restrictive one," said M.J. Moltenbray, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP.



    The EU Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft Corp. on both major parts of the case, saying the European Commission was correct in concluding that the company was guilty of monopoly abuse in trying to use its power over desktop computers to muscle into server software.



    Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, said it would withhold comment on the decision and on whether it would appeal to the EU's highest court, the European Court of Justice, until it had gone through the 248-page ruling. It has two months to appeal.



    "I don't want to talk about what will come next," said Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith. "We need to read the ruling before we make any decision."



    But he said the company accepted that it may need to do more to comply with EU demands — without giving specifics.



    "It's not our desire and it is not our goal to have continuous arguments and disputes. We want to move forward," he told reporters — saying he had called the Commission earlier to congratulate them.



    The court had confirmed that regulators had "quite broad power and quite broad discretion" over companies with large market shares, he said, citing Google Inc., Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. as those that needed to heed the decision.



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    While the fine was the largest ever assessed by EU regulators, Microsoft has plenty of resources — it earned $14.07 billion last fiscal year.



    Its shares fell 29 cents to $28.75 in morning trading Monday.



    The court said regulators had clearly demonstrated that selling media software with Windows had damaged rivals.



    "The court observes that it is beyond dispute that in consequence of the tying, consumers are unable to acquire the Windows operating system without simultaneously acquiring Windows Media Player," it said.



    "In that regard, the court considers that neither the fact that Microsoft does not charge a separate price for Windows Media Player nor the fact that consumers are not obliged to use that Media Player is irrelevant."



    But it did overturn regulators' decision to appoint a monitoring trustee to watch how Microsoft had complied with the ruling, saying the Commission had exceeded its powers by ordering Microsoft to pay for all the costs of the trustee.



    The mood at EU headquarters was one of elation and the court's decision was hailed as a big victory for the EU's competition policy and for consumer rights.



    "The ruling confirms more than ever that Microsoft must comply," said EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. "I will not tolerate continued noncompliance."



    Kroes said however that the victory did not yet mean that software customers have more choice than they did three years ago, when Microsoft was slapped with the original EU fine.



    "The court has confirmed
     
    Jason, Sep 19, 2007
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