Is Microsoft fulfilling its antitrust settlements?

Out-Law News | 25 Jan 2006 | 12:30 pm | 1 min. read

Microsoft found itself trying to placate both EU and US authorities this week over its compliance with their respective antitrust rulings. The European Commission has threatened daily fines while a US report highlights delays in a monitoring project.

The European Commission's impatience follows its March 2004 finding that Microsoft broke competition law by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC operating systems onto the markets for work group server operating systems and for media players.

The Commission imposed a fine, ordered Microsoft to offer an alternative stripped-down version of Windows, and ordered the firm to publish some of its interfaces, so that competitors could make their products interoperable with Windows.

Microsoft has paid the fine and produced the alternative Windows version, but has been slow to produce what the Commission sees as adequate interoperability information.

In December, the European Commission finally set Microsoft a deadline of 25th January by which to supply "adequate information about its server programs". Failure to do this, said the Commission, would result in daily fines of $2 million, backdated to the original deadline of 15th December.

Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has been calling for more time in which to respond to the Commission’s concerns over the information already supplied. As a result, the Commission yesterday agreed to extend the deadline to 15th February.

Meantime, Microsoft has faced criticism from the US administration, over delays in meeting the requirements of its 2002 antitrust settlement.

Originally brought by the Department of Justice and 20 states, the US antitrust action was largely settled in 2002 when Microsoft, the Justice Department and several states signed a judicially-approved settlement.

As part of the settlement, Microsoft is monitored for compliance with the agreement, and six-monthly joint status reports are presented to District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for her consideration.

The last of these highlighted problems faced by Microsoft in implementing a protocol analyser project. The project, code-named “Troika”, is intended to improve the accuracy of technical documentation provided to licensees under the settlement.

To monitor the progress of the implementation, it was proposed that monthly reports on this specific point would be filed with the court. The first of these was published on 17th January, revealing that, according to US prosecutors, “Since approximately mid-November, Microsoft has fallen significantly behind in responding to technical documentation issues submitted by the [Technical Committee]”.

Prosecutors called for a dramatic increase in resources in order to bring the process back on track.