• United States
by Paul Meller

EU preliminary ruling on Microsoft expected

Oct 25, 20023 mins

The antitrust investigation into Microsoft is ongoing, but a preliminary ruling should be made before the end of the year, a top European Commission official said Friday.

“The investigation team is still examining concerns on issues such as tying in of related products,” Director General of Competition Philip Lowe said.

The Commission, the executive body of the European Union, had accused Microsoft of tying products such as its Media Player into the sale of its Windows operating systems. By tying, or bundling, Media Player and other software with its market-dominating operating system, Microsoft could essentially force users to buy non-Windows software, and potentially thwart competitors in, for example, the applications market, the Commission suggested.

Lowe also said the Commission is waiting to see which other antitrust problems will be cleared up in a court decision in the U.S.

Nine U.S. states that have refused to sign a proposed antitrust settlement in the U.S. case deal have argued that the settlement proposal doesn’t go far enough to ensure that companies can compete against Microsoft’s market dominance. A decision in the U.S. case, which is in the appeals process, is expected any day.

“We expect a preliminary European Commission view by the year end, with a final decision due next year,” Lowe said.

The Commission will send out its preliminary ruling to interested third parties such as Sun, whose complaint sparked the Commission’s antitrust investigation into Microsoft.

Lowe was speaking to journalists after the European Court of First Instance annulled a European Commission decision last year to block the merger of two packaging companies. Friday’s decision marked the second merger ruling by the Commission to be struck down in the space of a week.

In the packaging case the Commission had claimed that, by coming together, the companies would be able to leverage their dominance from one form of packaging to another.

Similar accusations have been levelled at Microsoft by the Commission, which has said that Microsoft is using its dominance in the desktop operating system market to unfairly compete in other markets, such as the market for media players and server software. However, Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said he did not expect Friday’s ruling in the court to have an impact on the Microsoft case.

“Comparisons with the Microsoft case are unjustified,” Monti said.

The court ruling Friday did not question the right of the Commission to apply its leveraging analysis but it criticized the way in which the Commission assessed this aspect of the packaging merger.