EU Examines U.S. Microsoft Ruling

BRUSSELS (04/04/2000) - The European Commission's antitrust division will examine in detail yesterday's U.S. district court ruling regarding Microsoft Corp. antitrust violations, to determine whether it reflects concerns about the software giant's operations in the European Union.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's findings could in fact provide fuel for a series of on-going investigations that the Commission is currently pursuing against Microsoft in the EU, a Commission official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed today. These inquiries all involve the principle that Microsoft is using its dominant position in the PC operating software market to leverage it into a similar position in other markets.

Though acknowledging that the U.S. ruling could provide fodder for its own inquiries, the Commission, however, declined today to comment specifically on the U.S. district court ruling.

"We never make comments on judicial rulings in other countries," the Commission spokesman for competition, Michael Tscherny, told journalists at a briefing today.

"The ruling does not, however, tie our hands. The American antitrust authorities do their job, and we are doing ours," Tscherny added. Tscherny cautioned that the final results are not yet known, because not only has Microsoft announced that it will appeal the ruling, but it is also intent on continuing talks to identify remedies for an out-of-court settlement.

"There is a ruling, but no remedies yet," he said.

Although the EU has taken a back seat to the U.S. in current antitrust investigations, when it comes to remedies, it may take a more active role, Commission officials have said.

The Commission is currently investigating three antitrust complaints regarding Microsoft.

In February, the Commission launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that Microsoft Corp. has introduced elements into Windows 2000 designed to help it expand its dominance from PC operating systems to other systems, notably servers.

In addition, earlier this year, at the instructions of the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice, the Commission reopened a case involving allegations by Micro Leader Business, a French software wholesaler, alleging that Microsoft had violated antitrust rules when it banned Micro Leader from reselling copyrighted Microsoft software imported from Canada.

Finally, the Commission has extended its investigation into the planned acquisition of telecommunications company Telewest Communications PLC by Microsoft. This inquiry was sparked by concerns that Microsoft is using its position in operating systems as leverage to gain market share in the desktop box sector, Tscherny pointed out.

In addition to these three cases, the Commission is also inquiring into two complaints that have not yet been made public, "one from a software manufacturer and one from a hardware manufacturer," Tscherny acknowledged.

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