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EU Suspends Taking Action Against Microsoft

June 28, 2004|From Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Sunday temporarily suspended a landmark antitrust decision against Microsoft Corp., pending a judge's decision on whether sanctions should be delayed until the company's appeals were exhausted.

The decision came a day before an EU order was to take effect requiring Microsoft to make Windows software available to European PC makers without its media player.

The EU said it agreed to lift the order temporarily "in the interest of a proper administration of justice."

However, the EU added that "the remedies were reasonable, balanced and necessary to restore competition in the marketplace and that there was a strong public interest in favor of implementing them without waiting for the judgment on the substance of the case."

On Friday, Microsoft asked the EU's high court to issue a long-term order barring the antitrust decision from taking effect while the appeal was being considered. A court ruling on the request is expected in two months, an EU spokeswoman said.

On March 24, the European Commission declared Microsoft guilty of abusing its "near monopoly" with Windows software. It levied a fine of $613 million and demanded changes in how the company operated in Europe.

Microsoft was given 90 days -- until today -- to separate the media player from Windows software and 120 days to issue "complete and accurate" information to rivals in the server market so their products could become fully interoperable with desktop computers running Windows.

Microsoft filed a 100-page appeal June 7 asking the EU high court to annul the antitrust decision and its penalties. That move in itself did not stop the order, so Microsoft filed a petition with the court seeking interim relief from the antitrust decision.

The company wants no penalties imposed while it pursues a final appeal of the ruling. To get its way, Microsoft must convince the EU high court that it will suffer "irreparable harm" if the measures are implemented now, even if they are reversed later on a final appeal that may take five years or more.

Microsoft said pushing through the antitrust order would hurt developers of software and websites "who have built products for the Windows platform."

The EU's case against Microsoft concerns the Redmond, Wash.-based company's practice of locking new features into its Windows software to help sell upgrades. The software giant says such "bundling" benefits consumers, but rivals call it unfair competition because Windows runs 90% of personal computers worldwide.

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