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EU slaps Microsoft with $1.4B antitrust fine

Posted: 29 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:antitrust case? Microsoft monopoly? PC operating systems?

The EU competition regulators have fined Microsoft $1.4 billion for defying a landmark 2004 anti-trust ruling, according to an Agence France-Presse report. The fine is the biggest leveled against a single company in an EU antitrust case, and brings the total penalties against Microsoft to just below $2.56 billion.

"Microsoft was the first company in 50 years of EU competition policy that the commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an anti-trust decision," EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said. "I hope that today's decision closes a dark chapter in Microsoft's record of non-compliance with the commission's March 2004 decision."

The European Commission, Europe's competition watchdog, fined Microsoft $750 million in March 2004 and ordered the company to open some key software to rivals so they could make compatible products. In July 2006, the commission fined the company a further $423 million after determining that it was not respecting its original ruling.

The commission hit Microsoft with the latest penalty, the sum of daily fines running from June 21, 2006 to Oct. 21, 2007, because it said Microsoft had failed to charge rivals reasonable prices for access to key information about its work-group or back-office servers in contravention of the 2004 ruling.

In reaction, Microsoft said it was "reviewing the commission's action" and highlighted that the latest EU action targeted "past issues."

"The commission announced in October 2007 that Microsoft was in full compliance with the 2004 decision, so these fines are about the past issues that have been resolved," Microsoft said.

Long-running standoff
After a five-year investigation, the commission ruled then that Microsoft had abused its share of the market for OS-running PCs thanks to its Windows program.

In particular, it accused Microsoft of using its stranglehold on PC operating systems to elbow rivals out of more competitive markets for media players that play music and videos, and OS running back-office servers.

Microsoft fought the decision until September when an EU court threw out the company's appeal against the ruling.

Since its court victory, the European Commission has launched an investigation targeting the interoperability of software products, including Microsoft's Office package, with rival products.

Last week, Microsoft said it was making "broad-reaching changes" to its technology and business practices to enhance the ease with which its software interacts with partners, customers and competitors. However, the commission gave the move a lukewarm response, saying that it had seen similar promises in the past.

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