EU May Give Microsoft Some Leeway In Meeting Antitrust Demands

A source says European regulators may leave it to Microsoft to work out a way to meet demands that it release more programming code.
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Wary of provoking a copyright battle, European regulators wrapping up their antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. may leave it to the U.S. software giant to work out how to meet demands that it release more programming code, a source close to the case said Tuesday.

The regulators have already prepared a draft decision that finds Microsoft violated European Union competition law on two counts essentially: by bundling its media player into its dominant Windows operating system, and by failing to provide competitors in the server market with adequate data so their products operate as well with Windows as Microsoft's own.

EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said Monday that he had set a date for deciding the long-running case--expected as early as next month--but that a settlement was still possible.

Monti is expected to fine Microsoft for past abuses and is considering requiring it to either sell Windows in the EU without a media player or include products made by rivals as well as its own.

But demands that Microsoft release more proprietary "source code" for the server market could give the European Court of First Instance grounds to suspend the order if Microsoft appeals, as expected.

In previous cases involving intellectual property rights, the court has issued injunctions stopping regulators from forcing companies to give up valuable data or innovative ideas.

Last year, Monti was forced to concede defeat by withdrawing a ruling against U.S. pharmaceuticals-data collector IMS Health Inc., which had been suspended by the court since October 2001.

Under one plan in the Microsoft case, the source told Dow Jones Newswires, Monti would fine Microsoft for monopoly abuses but stop short of demanding more proprietary data than the company has already offered in recent negotiations. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

That would be good for Microsoft, which has argued that its rivals are trying to clone its most valuable products, including software known as Active Directory that lets organizations centrally manage users and computing resources on a network.

Europe's trustbusters could encourage Microsoft and its competitors, such as Sun Microsystems Inc., to hash out the details among themselves, and to settle further disputes before Europe's national courts.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing