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Antitrust Talks in EU May Resume

November 04, 2002|From Bloomberg News

BRUSSELS — Microsoft Corp. is ready to restart talks with European Union competition officials after a U.S. judge approved most of the antitrust settlement the world's biggest software maker reached with the Bush administration.

A European Commission probe into whether Microsoft abused the dominant position of its Windows operating system had been informally suspended while officials on both sides waited to see what conditions U.S. courts imposed.

"Everybody involved in the case recognized it was important to view what came out of the proceedings in the U.S.," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's top lawyer in Europe, said over the weekend. "We don't suggest the commission relies on this decision, but we hope they will look closely at it."

The European Commission is investigating Microsoft's move into the market for low-end servers, the hubs of computer networks. Competition Commissioner Mario Monti also is looking at whether Microsoft's bundling of Media Player software with Windows gives it an unfair advantage.

The commission declined to comment on the U.S. ruling. Monti's deputy, Philip Lowe, said Oct. 25 that it was "not yet clear which problems will be cleared up" by a U.S. resolution.

The EU probe was triggered by a December 1998 complaint by Sun Microsystems Inc., one of the biggest makers of computers that run Web sites.

The commission found that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft engaged in discriminatory licensing and refused to supply essential information on Windows to server makers. Servers store and deliver information for computer networks. Low-end systems are cheaper and usually used for keeping files, printing and storing Internet data.

The commission has maintained that its probe concerns different allegations from those in the U.S. It could impose tougher conditions on Microsoft and theoretically fine it as much as 10% of global sales.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Friday approved the settlement and denied requests by nine states to impose stiffer penalties.

The settlement allows computer makers to promote software programs that compete with Microsoft's, and requires the company to charge the top 20 computer makers uniform prices for Windows.

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