Microsoft Says EU Refused Open Antitrust Hearing Request

Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that the European Commission has refused its request for an open antitrust hearing later this month -- hearings the EU said are never open to the public.

The hearing March 30-31 gives the company the chance to respond to the EU December charges that it was not doing enough to comply with a 2004 ruling that ordered it to share information that would help rivals develop software to work with Windows servers.

"We believe this hearing should be conducted in an open forum," Microsoft said in a statement. "We understand these sessions are normally private in order to protect the party under investigation; however, we waive our right to a confidential hearing to ensure a full and fair examination of the issues in this case."

EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said the hearings exist to give due process to companies under antitrust investigation and allow regulators make a "considered" decision.

"Hearings in antitrust cases are never open to the public," he said. "They are not there to allow parties to play to the gallery."

Microsoft's request for an open hearing was turned down several weeks ago, he said.

The company insists that the case is vitally important with serious implications not just for Microsoft, but for companies and industries across Europe.

The Commission told Microsoft last week that it still has not obeyed the ruling. It has already threatened the company with a daily fine of 2 million euros ($2.4 million), backdated to Dec. 15. The Commission has said it will make its final decision after the hearing.

The EU levied a record 497 million euro ($613 million) fine against Microsoft in March 2004. It also ordered the company to share code with rivals and offer a version of Windows without the Media Player software.

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