EU Court Upholds Microsoft Fine
June 28, 2012

EU Court Upholds Microsoft Fine

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

On Wednesday the General Court of the European Union rejected Microsoft´s appeal of a 2008 European Commission antitrust ruling, but reduced the fine by 39 million euros to just 860 million euros — or $1.1 billion dollars.

The fine was based on a daily rate for the 488 days that Microsoft failed to hand over interoperability information, and the software giant is reportedly the only such company to be fined (to date) by the European Commission´s antitrust regulators for failing to comply with an order.

This record-breaking fine was imposed on Microsoft´s failure to respect an earlier antitrust ruling that it disclose information about APIs used in its workgroup server products to enable competitors to develop interoperable products. And whilst this remains — at least to date — the largest single antitrust case in Europe, the 2009 ruling against Intel Corp. saw that tech giant hit with a fine of 1.09 billion euros.

Neither the latter fact, nor the reduced fine seemed to placate Microsoft.

“Although the General Court slightly reduced the fine, we are disappointed with the Court's ruling,” the company said in a statement published by the Associated Press.

This European court ruling against the Redmond, Wash.-based company also closes a case that dates back 14 years and began in 1998.

“The General Court essentially upholds the Commission´s decision imposing a periodic penalty payment on Microsoft for failing to allow its competitors access to interoperability information on reasonable terms,” the court said in a statement published by Reuters.

Additionally, the Commission noted that this ruling did not mean that Microsoft should be required to hand over interoperability information, but Microsoft had argued that regulators should have given the company additional guidance.

Microsoft also apparently has looked to avoid such fines in the future. As part of a 2009 deal the company ended an investigation into alleged abusive practices that included the bundling of the Internet Explorer web browser as part of the Windows operating system. Microsoft has further allowed customers a range of browsers to choose from — and this is notable in that worldwide Chrome has actually surpassed Explorer.

The software tech giant has also turned the tables and become watchdog itself. Earlier this year it asked the EU to investigate Google Inc. for anticompetitive practices, suggesting that Google is demanding unreasonable fees to license its technology. Google has fired back with its own request to the Commission to investigate Microsoft.

Industry observers have noted that Apple, Google and Microsoft are acting as “patent trolls” and using legal and regulatory systems to thwart any competition. Apple for example scored a victory this year over Samsung over patent violations in the tablet space — with Apple claiming that a model of Samsung Galaxy Tab line infringed on the Apple iPad design.

But could all this backfire?

Michael Reynolds, a partner at Allen & Overy, the law firm that once represented Sun Microsystems, warned to Reuters this week that big companies on the Commission´s radar should heed the court ruling. It was Sun that first asked the EU to investigate its probe of Microsoft.

“Dominant companies such as Google will take notice of this in the way they handle their case and how they come to a settlement,” Reynolds told Reuters.

The big winners could be the patent attorneys with their billable hours!