News

Microsoft Says EU Colluded with Rivals

Microsoft Corp. filed a formal complaint with EU antitrust regulators Thursday, alleging that the European Commission withheld documents and secretly colluded with Microsoft opponents shortly before the EU charged the company with failing to obey an earlier ruling.

The EU said it had no immediate comment on the content or admissibility of what it termed Microsoft's "supplementary response" to the charges against the company. It said it would decide after a March 30 or 31 hearing if it would levy $2.4 million in daily fines against the company for not doing enough to provide competitors with the information needed to make their software work with Microsoft servers.

Those charges were based on reports from computer science professor Neil Barrett, who said the technical information Microsoft had provided needed a drastic overhaul to make it workable. Barrett, a visiting professor at Cranfield University in Britain, is an expert in Internet crime and fraud and has advised the British government on computer cases.

In Thursday's complaint, Microsoft said it believes EU officials had "inappropriate" contacts with Barrett, which it claimed called into question the independence of Barrett's final reports.

"While the documents provided do not include the direct correspondence between the Commission and its technical experts, they show that the Commission, the trustee, and Microsoft's adversaries were secretly collaborating throughout the fall of 2005 in a manner inconsistent with the Commission's role as neutral regulator and the Trustee's role as independent monitor," said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's associate general counsel in Europe.

"These contacts call into question whether the reports...are really independent, impartial assessments of Microsoft's technical documentation, or instead are argumentative tracts developed for the Commission with the assistance of Microsoft's competitors," he said.

Microsoft claimed the Commission also facilitated secret meetings between Barrett and "another of Microsoft's adversaries" that it did not name, saying it offered to help Barrett fly to Texas for the meeting.

Some of the contacts are referred to but not documented in correspondence between EU officials and business rivals -- earlier named as Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Novell Inc. -- that Microsoft first saw on Feb. 13, only two days before a deadline to respond to the December charges. Microsoft said this meant the EU was breaking its own public commitment to increase transparency in antitrust cases.

The EU levied a record $613 million fine against Microsoft in 2004. It also ordered the company to share programming code with rivals and offer a version of Windows without the Media Player software for what the court saw as an abuse of the company's dominant position in the industry.

Microsoft is appealing the ruling and the case will be heard in April by the European Court of First Instance, the EU's second-highest court.